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

SFWRITER.COM > Novels > What's a Sawyer novel like?

What's a Robert J. Sawyer
Novel Like?

R. Graeme Cameron in Amazing Stories: "Sawyer doesn't pontificate. His writing style and technique is deceptively clear and precise and very easy to read. He doesn't let anything disrupt the flow. Once he's got you hooked, every book is a real page turner. Only later, upon reflection, does the complexity and subtlety of what he's writing sink in. His teeth rip into your subconscious, then take their time to penetrate upward into your conscious awareness."

[Wake US hardcover] Don Sakers in Analog Science Fiction and Fact: "For many years now, Robert J. Sawyer has been turning out imaginative, thought-provoking science fiction novels set in the present day and dealing with the impact of science and technology upon relatively ordinary people. A typical Sawyer tale brings together multiple diverse elements from popular culture, psychology, physics, and philosophy; stirs together plausible advances in science with appealing characters; adds some realistic depictions of actual scientists at work and a generous helping of old-fashioned sense-of-wonder; and filters the whole mix through a distinctly Canadian filter."

Stanley Schmidt in Analog Science Fiction and Fact: "Robert J. Sawyer has a way of taking familiar ideas, looking at them from new angles and in greater depth than almost anybody before him, and tying them together to create extraordinarily fresh and thought-provoking stories."

Don Sakers in Analog Science Fiction and Fact (again): "A new Robert J. Sawyer book is always cause for celebration."

Don Sakers in Analog Science Fiction and Fact (again): "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."

Asimov's Science Fiction: "Robert Sawyer seems to be intent on revisiting all the classic themes of science fiction, often with new twists that arise from a genuine rethinking of their premises — a writer whose willingness to give us new takes on the central questions of SF make him a valuable barometer of the genre's health."

Bakka Books: "Sawyer returns us to the Science Fiction of ideas and does so with a clarity of prose seldom seen these days."

Barnes and Noble: "Robert J. Sawyer consistently makes intelligent, mind-blowing science fiction accessible to the mainstream reader with his efficient, easy-flowing prose, his exciting ideas, and his superior character development."

Barnes and Noble (agan): "For those of you science fiction fans who have yet to experience Robert J. Sawyer, you're missing out on one of the most though-provoking writers in the genre. His narrative is a unique fusion of highly intelligent scientific speculation; emotionally-powered, character driven storylines; and offbeat humor mixed with subtle pop culture references."

Booklist: "Sawyer has a gift for casting jarringly original ideas in lucid, sharp-edged prose that mainstream-fiction as well as sf readers should appreciate."

Booklist (again): "Sawyer not only has an irresistibly engaging narrative voice but also a gift for confronting thorny philosophical conundrums. At every opportunity, he forces his readers to think while holding their attention with ingenious premises and superlative craftsmanship."

Books in Canada: "A sense of wonder that hasn't prevailed in American SF since the days of Heinlein."

The Canadian Encyclopedia: "Reviewers praise Sawyer for his concise prose, which has been compared to that of the science-fiction master Isaac Asimov. Sawyer welcomes the opportunities his chosen genre provides for exploring ideas; he prefers the label `philosophical fiction.' His mission statement for his writing is `To combine the intimately human with the grandly cosmic.'"

The Canadian Press: "Sawyer is a literary debunker of pseudo-science."

The Canadian Press (again): "Science-fiction author Robert Sawyer takes his science seriously. If he writes about it, it has either already happened or is theoretically possible given current scientific knowledge. Sawyer's novels are always part science and part philosophical exercise, raising questions of morality and ethics in the future that resonate in the present."

CanCulture: "As Canada's foremost science-fiction writer, Sawyer explores the impact of technology on humans and a global society, while simultaneously developing intimate characters from every walk of life."

Orson Scott Card, author of Ender's Game: "Sawyer writes with near-Asimovian clarity, with energy and drive, with such grace that his writing becomes invisible as the story comes to life in your mind."

Cinescape: "There's something special about Robert J. Sawyer's novels. You just can't put them down. Sawyer's novels are not, by any means whatsoever, 'beach reads.' On the contrary, they usually deal with pretty heady stuff: the conflict between science and religion, race relations, the biological factors behind behavior, etc. And yet, even though some deep thought is going on, the books are still simple, old fashioned page turners. The kind of books that keep you up at night, promising yourself you'll 'only read one more chapter,' then finishing that chapter and deciding to 'only do one more, for real this time.'"

Columbia Daily Tribune (Columbia, Missouri): "There are many good science fiction authors today who are familiar with the most cutting-edge science and could provide us with accurate views into the future. Robert J. Sawyer is one such author. Many of his novels merge high-tech concepts with more philosophical topics such as identity and awareness."

The Denver Post (Denver, Colorado): "Sawyer writes books with truly original ideas. He is adept at presenting novel scientific possibilities that resonate with the lives of his characters."

The Davis Enterprise (Davis, California): "Whenever I hear the adage that science fiction one day will become science fact, I think of Sawyer's novels. He explores the hard science behind some of our most sought-after advances, and he also discusses what they'll do to our psyches and morals."

Prof. Paul Fayter (York University): "Sawyer is recognized internationally for his liberal humanity, his stimulating ideas, and his deft and sensitive characterization."

The Financial Post (Toronto): "Sawyer is preoccupied with momentous SF issues, albeit filtered through a modern lens."

The Gainesville Sun (Florida): "Sawyer is a brilliant stylist who depicts daily-life events with a shattered world view."

The Globe and Mail (Toronto): "What sets Sawyer's work apart is the rigour of his research, the shapeliness of his arguments, and the plausibility of his predictions and extrapolations."

The Globe and Mail (again): "Sawyer sells so well in Canada because of his celebration of our culture; citizens seek him out for both a good story and affirmation of our identity. By writing about us, he has pried himself loose from the SF purgatory and onto the bestseller lists."

The Globe and Mail (again): "Robert J. Sawyer is by any measure one of the world's leading (and most interesting) science-fiction writers. Sawyer's fiction is a fascinating blend of intellectually compelling big ideas and humane, enduring characters."

Terence M. Green, author of Shadow of Ashland: "Robert J. Sawyer is a master at tackling the Fascinating Big Idea, shaking it, twisting it, and then extrapolating it into all its myriad tributaries. If you want a vision bigger than yours, bigger than your neighbor's, read Sawyer, sit back in wonder and pleasure, and enjoy the ride."

James Gunn, author of The Listeners: "Sawyer's work is sophisticated in SF terms because it displays an awareness of everything that has gone before while building engaging new scenarios with believable characters."

The Halifax Mail-Star: "Sawyer's novels — intelligent, literate, and immensely readable explorations of the biggest ideas there are — prove that science fiction is now literature."

Kirkus: "If you need an introduction to science fiction, a good idea is to read a SF book that's accessible for newbie readers. Robert J. Sawyer has a propensity for writing accessible, near-future science-fiction stories."

LabLit.com: "If this doesn't sound like your father's science fiction, it isn't. Sawyer's novels are thought-provoking, literate, erudite and often thrilling. They manage to appeal to both the heart and the mind. Those are considerable accomplishments, and not something your average adolescent-aimed space opera or even Crichton-esque thriller can hope to achieve. This is lab lit writ large and executed with style."

Mississauga Life: "The best thing about reading a Robert J. Sawyer novel is how much smarter I feel after I'm done. Sawyer is a writer of hard science-fiction — that is, his novels are full of rigorous scientific detail. He spends months researching before he starts writing."

Mystery News: "Sawyer is on a par with giants like Asimov and Heinlein — and, perhaps more than any other science-fiction writer working today, he understands that it's a genre about ideas."

New Scientist: "[Sawyer's work is] scientifically plausible, fictionally intriguing and ethically important."

The New York Review of Science Fiction: "Sawyer is well-known for careful background research on his novels."

The Ottawa Citizen: "The hallmarks of a Sawyer novel are the sheer fun and big ideas of the Golden Age of Science Fiction combined with modern, literate, flesh-and-blood characterization."

The Ottawa Review of Books: "Sawyer writes the purest form of science fiction in which he either takes current trends and extrapolates their long-term implications, or comes up with completely unique, sometimes jaw-dropping ideas and then works through their most subtle ramifications."

John Robert Colombo in The Oxford Companion to Canadian Literature: "Sawyer binds together concerns about technology and compelling storylines in masterful ways."

Clifford A. Pickover, author of Surfing Through Hyperspace: "Sawyer's books — always rich in science, action, and profound thinking — never fail to surprise, delight, and cause us to transcend our ordinary thinking. I've read Crichton, Asimov, Heinlein, Clarke, King, and Koontz — and Sawyer outdoes them all."

Prince George Citizen: "[Sawyer's] prose is clear, conversational and confident."

Publishers Weekly: "Sawyer's writing vies for timelessness by plumbing eternal philosophical and ethical questions, albeit in a futuristic setting."

Quill & Quire: "A polished, exciting writer. Sawyer writes with the scientific panache and grandeur of Arthur C. Clarke [and] the human touch of Isaac Asimov."

Quill & Quire (again): "Sawyer's strength as a science-fiction writer is the way he can synthesize complex scientific ideas in an accessible manner and extract philosophical meaning from them."

Quill & Quire (again): "A blurb on the jacket of Hominids, the latest novel from Robert J. Sawyer, suggests that he be considered 'Canada's answer to Michael Crichton.' Talk about damning with faint praise. While the financial implications of the comparison are attractive, Sawyer utterly outstrips Crichton with the richness of his imagination, the breadth of his research, and his skills as a writer."

Raven Lunatick: I loved [Quantum Night]. 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."

Rocky Mountain News (Denver, Colorado): "Here are a few of the things I like about Robert J. Sawyer: His novels are fast moving and tightly constructed; his characters are developed so that I care what happens to them; the science in his science fiction is intrinsic to the plot but not so arcane that readers have to be nuclear physicists to understand it; and he doesn't imitate others or himself."

Robert J. Sawyer, quoted in a cover-story profile in Quill & Quire, May 2007: "My job is to carve away the jargon and leave behind the awe."

Sacramento News & Review: "Like all great science fiction, Sawyer's work ultimately stirs up philosophical questions."

John Scalzi, author Old Man's War: "Cracking open a new Robert Sawyer book is like getting a gift from a friend who visits all the strange and undiscovered places in the world. You can't wait to see what he's going to amaze you with this time."

SFRevu: "There are some writers who, even if they do not write the same book over and over again, write very similar books. Not so with Robert Sawyer, who pairs an enormous imagination with extensive research. Whether writing about a dinosaur Galileo, atheist Neanderthals, or a self-aware World Wide Web, Sawyer makes his characters, and the world in which they live, come alive. If there is one thing Sawyer's books do have in common, in addition to their overall excellence, it is his concern for morality and determining the right thing to do."

SFScope: "Sawyer's story-telling style is almost invisible to the reader; he doesn't get in the way of his own story, and writes short, punchy chapters that keep the reader saying `just one more.' ([He writes] the type of book I love when I've finished, but hate while I'm reading, because I can't put it down.) His characters are fully realized, and I always finish his books wanting more."

Susan Schneider, University of Pennsylvania, in Science Fiction and Philosophy (Wiley-Blackwell): "If you read science fiction writers like Stanislaw Lem, Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke and Robert Sawyer, you are already aware that some of the best science fiction tales are in fact long versions of philosophical thought experiments."

Science Fiction Quarterly: "Sawyer's novels tend to address directly contemporary issues, and though he never shies away from controversy, his approach is never less than evenhanded."

Science Fiction Weekly: "Over the past decade, Robert Sawyer has developed into one of science fiction's most reliable authors, producing a long series of superior novels. His books generally feature compelling plots and likable characters in believable near-future venues, with interesting new technologies and engaging themes about what it means to be human, all written in prose of near-Asimovian clarity."

Adam-Troy Castro in Sci Fi magazine: "When people call science fiction a literature of ideas, they mean Robert J. Sawyer. His works don't just introduce the idea and get out of the way so a plot can be hung on it; they hinge on the idea, exploring it from every angle, through the medium of characters who are perfectly willing to discuss its ramifications at great length, while we watch. It's heady stuff. But Sawyer provides plenty of food for the heart as well."

SciFi Dimensions: "Robert Sawyer's novels have always been accessible tales that deal equally with ideas and characters."

Sci-Fi Bulletin: "Robert J. Sawyer may now be best known as the author of the novel that inspired FlashForward, but he's been writing for many years, garnering numerous prizes along the way. His stories are accessible, combining thriller elements with scientific discourse — there can't be many writers around today who use the climax of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Gerry Anderson's Captain Scarlet, the Planet of the Apes saga, and the 1983 movie WarGames as reference points in their novels."

Seattle Weekly: "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."

SFFaudio: "Sawyer is a fantastic structural writer, a craftsman capable of laying out the ideas in just the right order. We get meaty philosophical thought experiments and thus pure HARD SF."

SFFaudio (again): "Sawyer uses science fiction to create circumstances that make us readers think about important ideas in different ways and from different perspectives. That's exactly the kind of science fiction I love to read, and why I'll keep coming back to Robert J. Sawyer for more."

SFRA Review: "Sawyer writes sharp, clear, seemingly effortless prose."

SF Signal: "There's something about Robert J. Sawyer's novels that strike a pleasing science fictional chord. They encompass all the things I like about science fiction, like cool `What if?' extrapolations, portrayal of technology that leads to thought-provoking ideas, strong characters and engrossing plots."

Rodger Turner on SF Site: "Robert J. Sawyer writes my favorite kind of science fiction. Interesting characters, fast-paced plotting, science threaded elegantly into the prose — he does it all with grace and style. I am constantly amazed by the depth of Sawyer's characters — their humanity, their failings and their instincts."

SF Site: "When it comes to blending cutting-edge science with complex philosophical ruminations, there are few authors more talented than Robert J. Sawyer. Sawyer is one of those rare SF authors who is able to approach complex scientific concepts and humanize them with believable characters, rich dialogue and all too real moral and philosophical dilemmas. Sawyer's work is a rich, intelligent and entertaining form of contemporary literature."

SF Site (again): "Sawyer is one of a handful of Science Fiction authors working in the field today who is able to blend together a myriad of philosophical, moral, and even legal concepts, with futuristic extrapolations based on real scientific principles. In essence Sawyer's writing does what the very best Hard Science Fiction should do: it uses complex technological concepts to show us what it means to be human. In short, in all of Sawyer's vast body of work, the science — as entertaining, and thought provoking as it may be — is always a secondary consideration after his well crafted characters and careful study of humanity itself, and it is this purposeful balance that elevates Sawyer's work from Science Fiction escapism into the realm of high literature. In Hard SF in particular it is difficult to create believable characters that the reader cannot help but sympathize with, but Sawyer manages to do it yet again with a skill and clarity that most mainstream literary writers would envy."

SideTrekked: "Reminiscent of Heinlein at his best."

Talebones: "Robert J. Sawyer's books do what I wish all SF did: include good scientific extrapolations without sacrificing story."

Toronto Life (1997): "Robert J. Sawyer is very good at what he does. His novels, informed by a probing intelligence, are seamless blends of SF, mystery, and argumentative essay. He is right to demand serious attention to his work."

Toronto Life (2000): "Sawyer is a master of his craft. He's deft with the science, has a light touch with the big questions and is even occasionally laugh-out-loud funny. His books do what good science fiction should: force you to think laterally, abstractly — big."

Toronto Life (2010): "Sawyer's fast-paced prose blends adventure and philosophical exploration, riveting readers to implausible narratives populated by talking space dinosaurs; dimension-shifting, bisexual Neanderthals; and six-legged aliens (who infiltrate the ROM). They're also meticulously researched examinations of modern culture in the face of world-altering progress. He pits spirituality against pragmatism and shows characters at their most vulnerable, usually within recognizable Canadian settings. It's like CanLit on meth, and he has made addicts out of thousands of middle-aged sci-hards."

Philip Marchand in The Toronto Star: "Sawyer knows what all sitcom writers and too few novelists know, which is that the interplay of plot and subplot provides half the spark of a good read. If an author is to present imaginative and speculative scenarios based on real science, he must convince the reader he knows what he's talking about, and this Sawyer certainly accomplishes. [Sawyer's work] demonstrates beyond a doubt that the human appetite for transcendence, for a way around our obvious physical and mental limitations, is as great among scientific rationalists as it is among traditionally religious people."

Henry Mietkiewicz in The Toronto Star: "Sawyer hasn't locked his gaze single-mindedly on the starships and aliens of the far future. For him science fiction is a practical, hands-on way of speculating about the way today's breakthroughs may affect us the day after tomorrow.

Henry Mietkiewicz in The Toronto Star (again): "It's hard to think of a modern science-fiction author with dreams as vast as those of the internationally acclaimed Robert J. Sawyer. He possesses an uncanny knack of injecting freshness into timeworn material."

Henry Mietkiewicz in The Toronto Star (again): "Sawyer compels us to think in a concrete way about concepts that we usually dismiss as being too metaphysical to grapple with. As he is clearly aware, the essence of science fiction isn't starships, robots or virtual reality, but a unique philosophical inquiry into the evolution of the human spirit."

Minister Faust in VUE Weekly (Edmonton, Alberta): "A key — but oddly rarely-mentioned — element of Sawyer's canon is its pacifism. It's easy for any writer to fry up clean-your-plate, finger-licking-good stories when all it takes is dousing the meal in violence-sauce; Sawyer's literary project argues not only that violence isn't the solution in life, but that it needn't be the solution in dramatic entertainment."

Andrew Weiner, author of Getting Near the End: "Sawyer's strong grounding in science allows him to write convincing 'hard' science fiction in the classic tradition of Isaac Asimov and Robert Heinlein. At the same time, he writes fluent, literate prose about believable and interesting characters. There are many SF writers who draw on science, many more who write and characterize well. But the combination of the two qualities is extremely unusual in modern SF; in the Canadian SF field, it is unique."

A Reader: Here's what one reader had to say about Rob's books in an unsolicited e-mail in December 2002:

The last SF book I read was required reading in my college Popular Literature course. Whether because it was SF or just because it was required reading — I hated it and haven't read another SF book since.

I heard you a few months ago on CBC Radio discussing Hominids. It sounded interesting and since I live in North Bay, reading a book set in Sudbury made me even more curious. But what really got me was when you encouraged everyone, especially those who either had no interest in SF or had already decided they didn't like it, to pick up a book and read it. Not necessarily yours, you said, but any good SF book.

To put this to the test, I did not choose Hominids because it already sounded interesting. Instead I picked up Illegal Alien. Hell, Aliens are in the title so I knew I'd hate it. But you were right. I'm hooked. Hominids was next and I've read a couple of others since.

What I really like about your books is that they aren't really what I have always considered Science Fiction. They're fiction that happens to contain science. That may be only a subtle difference, but it's enough.

Now I've got my wife interested and she would never pick up a book that we would normally consider SF ("No really. You'll like it. It's not like it's all about aliens and stuff. Well, OK, there are aliens in one of them and Neanderthals in another ... no, it's not anthropology ... look, it's just like the thrillers you read ... and one of them is set in Toronto so it's kind of cool when he mentions streetcar stops we know ... except the streetcars hover ... and another is in Sudbury ... and another place that isn't Sudbury but is in the same location except in a parallel universe .... Look, just read it OK?).

Thanks for converting me.

More Good Reading

Hard Science, Real People: Rob's approach to science fiction

Humor in the SF of Robert J. Sawyer (MP3)

Robert J. Sawyer's awards and honors
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