Sunday, September 30, 2007

World's Biggest Bookstore pushes Hominids



Toronto's World's Biggest Bookstore is promoting Hominids in the latest issue of their online newsletter, as you can see here: World's Biggest Bookstore's Sci-Fi Fan Letter: Sci-Fi Fan Letter Issue 14.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site


Friday, September 28, 2007

OSC's IGMS interviews RJS



The sixth issue of Orson Scott Card's InterGalactic Medicine Show -- just out -- has a lengthy interview with me conducted by Darrell Schweitzer. Each issue costs just $2.50, and always includes a new Enderverse story by Orson Scott Card himself.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site


Happy Birthday, TNG!



Twenty years ago today, September 28, 1987, Star Trek: The Next Generation premiered.

Every week for the first year, Carolyn and I had her brother David over, along with friends Norm Gall and Andi, and sometimes one or two others, to watch. After the episodes -- mostly, to be honest, painfully bad that first year -- we headed off for pizza at the branch of Mothers' Pizza Parlour at Steeles and Dufferin just north of Toronto.

The Mother's chain is defunct, that was two homes ago for us, and there've been three more Star Trek series since. Where has the time gone?

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site


We Love to Fly ...

... and it shows!

After 91 days on the road -- the longest road trip I've ever taken -- Carolyn and are now back home safe and sound in Mississauga. Over the last three months, I made these flight:

1. Toronto to San Francisco (NASA Ames)
2. San Francisco to Vancouver
3. Vancouver to Whitehorse
4. Whitehorse to Dawson (Berton House)
5. Dawson to Whitehorse
6. Whitehorse to Vancouver
7. Vancouver to Beijing
8. Beijing to Chengdu (SF Festival)
9. Chengdu to Beijing (Beijing visit)
10. Beijing to Vancouver
11. Vancouver to Whitehorse
12. Whitehorse to Dawson (Berton House)
13. Dawson to Whitehorse
14. Whitehorse to Vancouver
15. Vancouver to Toronto (Toronto)

And, boy, are my arms tired!

Thank you, thank you! I'm here all week! But that's all: my next trip, to Calgary for WordFest, begins in seven days. Gak!

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site


Whitehorse a success



Carolyn and I have had a great 30 hours in Whitehorse. Last night we had dinner with Barbara Curtis and her family -- Barb and I were at public school together.

Today, we did a little sightseeing, including The Beringia Interpretive Centre. And I gave my reading (from Rollback, natch) at the Whitehorse Public Library, to a crowd of 31, which was quite good for that venue.

Well, gotta hit the hay, even though it's only 9:40 p.m. here. Gotta be up at 5:00 a.m. for our flight to Vancouver (and from there we fly on to Toronto).

-- Rob, signing off from the Yukon

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site


Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Farewell to Berton House



Our Klondike adventure is over. Carolyn and I finished our three months at the Berton House Writers Retreat in Dawson, Yukon, today.

We arrived here on Tuesday, July 3, 2007, for an 87-day stay (minus 14 days for our side trip to China). It's been a mostly relaxing, mostly productive time, and I'm going to miss it. Suzanne Saito, the local Berton House liaison, picks us up in two hours to take us to the Dawson airport, and we begin the trek home (with two nights in Whitehorse, then a flight to Vancouver, then the long flight to Toronto).

Our thanks to Elsa Franklin, the Berton House administrator; Suzanne Saito, the liaison; Dan Davidson, editor of the Klondike Sun newspaper; the Berton House Charitable Trust; the Klondike Visitors Association; and, of course, to the memory of the great Pierre Berton, who generously established this retreat.

(The painting above was done by a previous Berton House resident, and hangs just inside the entryway.)

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site


Tuesday, September 25, 2007

NorthStar: 25 Years Ago Today



Has it been a quarter of a century already? Wow ...

Twenty-five years ago today, my great friend Ted Bleaney and I co-chaired a wonderful day-long science-fiction conference in Toronto called NorthStar: a full track of speakers, with a companion track of short films organized by Tom Nadas.

The event was a huge success, with a great turnout. The venue was the York Woods Branch of the North York Public Library. NorthStar was, I believe, the first-ever conference devoted to Canadian science fiction.

Our guest of honour was Donald Kingsbury (who we flew in from Montreal), and also on the program were such SF stars, even then, as Terence M. Green, Andrew Weiner, John Robert Colombo, and horror expert Robert S. Hadji; I served as master of ceremonies.

A very fond memory ...

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site


University of Waterloo teaches Rob



Not to be outdone by the University of Calgary, I'm informed that the University of Waterloo uses two Robert J. Sawyer novels in the science fiction course taught there by the Philosophy department's Joseph A. Novak: both Calculating God and Mindscan are required reading. Woohoo!

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site


Klondike Poetry Round Robin



Last night (Monday, September 24, 2007), my lovely wife Carolyn Clink ran a poetry round robin at the Dawson Public Library here in the Yukon.

It was a wonderful event: about a dozen residents showed up (including Dan Davidson, the editor of the local paper, and Suzanne Saito, the Berton House liaison).

Carolyn read the first poem, and then they went around the circle with those who wanted to reading poems as well; they did three full turns around the circle -- and Carolyn wrapped up by reading one of her best poems, "Cenotaphs." A terrific way to spend our second-last night in Dawson.



Suzanne Saito, Dawne Mitchell, Carolyn Clink



Carolyn Clink

Carolyn's blog at SFPOET.COM

Carolyn at SFWRITER.COM

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site


Monday, September 24, 2007

Best Movie Ever



Casablanca. Just sayin' ...

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site


Von Holtzbrink and eBooks

One really does have to wonder what's going through the minds of the people at Von Holtzbrink -- parent company of Tor, Forge, and St. Martin's Press -- when it comes to ebooks.

They have mostly given up doing Tor titles as ebooks (I was promised that my Mindscan would be released as an ebook, but it never was; I never even bothered to ask about Rollback).

But now, just today, Fictionwise at long last has Douglas Preston's Tyrannosaur Canyon as an ebook -- but only in Mobipocket format, and -- get this! -- for a book that's been in mass-market paperback at $7.99 since August of last year, the ebook is priced at $14.00. That's right, almost double the price of the current print edition.

I'm at a loss to explain the logic of this. Given that Von Holtzbrink insists on ebook rights in their contracts, not exploiting them efficiently, in a timely manner, and at a price point that would actually perhaps generate sales seems ... less than optimal, shall we say.

(I went through the same nonsense years ago with the ebook of Hybrids, the last title of mine Von Holtzbrink did as an ebook: priced at way more than the prevailing print edition, and only available in one format. Apparently they've learned nothing since.)

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site


Sunday, September 23, 2007

Last night at Diamond Tooth Gerties



Last night was the final night of the year at Diamond Tooth Gerties, the casino / night club here in Dawson, Yukon; it's now closed until next summer. Carolyn and I walked on over for the 8:30 floorshow, and Gertie herself came over to our table, sang to me, and planted a big kiss on my forehead. :)

The reason the casino is called Diamond Tooth Gerties (plural) instead of Diamond Tooth Gertie's (possessive) is, I guess, because they have two different actresses who portray Gertie. The one above is Kelley O'Connor; the other was Tracy Nordick.

Although I don't gamble, Carolyn and I often walked down to Gerties in the evenings -- for the exercise and fresh air of the walk, and maybe to grab a slice of pizza from the snack bar or catch a bit of one of the three nightly floorshows. It was one of our favourite places in Dawson, and we're going to miss it.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site


More Northern Lights!



Oh my God! Last night (Saturday, September 22, 2007), the northern lights were even better here in the Klondike than they were the night before -- in fact, they were absolutely incredible: arching right across the entire sky, from north to south, visibly rippling and undulating. Unbelievable, and amazingly beautiful. And -- yay! -- at 10:30 p.m., instead of 4:30 a.m.

Sadly, Carolyn didn't figure out how to get a really long exposure on her digital camera until after the best of the auroras had disappeared, but she still managed this wonderful shot.

We are both ecstatic! Auroras rock!

In fact, I confess that I'd never seen the northern lights when I wrote this scene, from the opening of Humans six years ago, on August 8, 2001, in which an aberrant display of the aurora borealis figures prominently [minor spoiler alert]:
[Mary Vaughan would] miss many things about Sudbury. She'd miss the lack of traffic congestion. She'd miss the friends she'd made here, including Reuben Montego and, yes, even Louise BenoƮt. She'd miss the relaxed atmosphere of tiny Laurentian University, where she'd done her mitochondrial DNA studies that had proven Ponter Boddit was indeed a Neanderthal.

But, most of all, she realized, as she stood at the side of the country road looking up at the clear night sky, she'd miss this. She'd miss seeing stars in a profusion beyond counting. She'd miss seeing the Andromeda galaxy, which Ponter had identified for her. She'd miss seeing the Milky Way, arching overhead.

And --

Yes!

Yes!

She'd especially miss this: the aurora borealis, flickering and weaving across the northern sky, pale green sheets of light, ghostly curtains.

Mary had indeed hoped to catch another glimpse of the aurora tonight. She'd been on her way back from Reuben Montego's place out in Lively (hah!), where she'd had a final barbecue dinner with him and Louise, and she'd pulled over at the side of the road specifically to look up at the night sky.

The heavens were cooperating. The aurora was breathtaking.

She'd forever associate the northern lights with Ponter. The only other time she'd seen them had been with him. She felt an odd sensation in her chest, the expanding feeling that went with awe battling the contracting sensation that accompanied sadness.

The lights were beautiful.

He was gone.

A cool green glow bathed the landscape as the aurora continued to flicker and dance, aspens and birches silhouetted in front of the spectacle, their branches waving slightly in the gentle August breeze.

Mary had made it to her current age of thirty-eight before seeing the aurora, and she didn't anticipate any reason to come back to Northern Ontario, so tonight, she knew, might well be the last time she'd ever see the undulating northern lights.

She drank in the view.

Some things were the same on both versions of Earth, Ponter had said: the gross details of geography, most of the animal and plant species (although the Neanderthals, never having indulged in overkilling, still had mammoths and moas in their world), the broad strokes of the climate. But Mary was a scientist: she understood all about chaos theory, about how the beating of a butterfly's wing was enough to affect weather systems half a world away. Surely just because there was a clear sky here on this Earth didn't mean the same was true on Ponter's world.

But if the weather did happen to coincide, perhaps Ponter was also looking up at the night sky now.

And perhaps he was thinking of Mary.

Ponter would, of course, be seeing precisely the same constellations, even if he gave them different names -- nothing terrestrial could possibly have disturbed the distant stars. But would the auroras be the same? Did butterflies or people have any effect on the choreography of the northern lights? Perhaps she and Ponter were looking at the exact same spectacle -- a curtain of illumination waving back and forth, the seven bright stars of the Big Dipper (or, as he would call it, the Head of the Mammoth) stretching out above.

Why, he might even right now be seeing the same shimmying to the right, the same shimmying to the left, the same --

Jesus.

Mary felt her jaw drop.

The auroral curtain was splitting down the middle, like aquamarine tissue paper being torn by an invisible hand. The fissure grew longer, wider, starting at the top and moving toward the horizon. Mary had seen nothing like that on the first night she'd looked up at the northern lights.

The sheet finally separated into two halves, parting like the Red Sea before Moses. A few -- they looked like sparks, but could they really be that? -- arced between the halves, briefly bridging the gap. And then the half on the right seemed to roll up from the bottom, like a window blind being wound onto its dowel, and, as it did so, it changed colors, now green, now blue, now violet, now orange, now turquoise.

And then in a flash -- a spectral burst of light -- that part of the aurora disappeared.

The remaining sheet of light was swirling now, as if it were being sucked down a drain in the firmament. As it spun more and more rapidly, it flung off gouts of cool green fire, a pinwheel against the night.

Mary watched, transfixed. Even if this was only her second night actually observing an aurora, she'd seen countless pictures of the northern lights over the years in books and magazines. She'd known those still images hadn't done justice to the spectacle; she'd read how the aurora rippled and fluttered.

But nothing had prepared her for this.

The vortex continued to contract, growing brighter as it did so, until finally, with -- did she really hear it? -- with what sounded like a pop, it vanished.

Mary staggered backward, bumping up against the cold metal of her rented Dodge Neon. She was suddenly aware that the forest sounds around her -- insects and frogs, owls and bats -- had fallen silent, as if every living thing was looking up in wonder.

Mary's heart was pounding, and one thought kept echoing through her head as she climbed into the safety of her car.

I wonder if it's supposed to do that ...


The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site


Saturday, September 22, 2007

Jack London review

In honour of my last few days living just down the road from Jack London's cabin in Dawson, Yukon, a pointer to a review I did of Jack's book Before Adam; the review was published in 2005 in the glossy newsstand magazine Archaeology.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site


At last! Northern Lights!



Finally! About 4:30 a.m. this morning I got up to pee here at Berton House, and, on my way back to the bedroom, I looked out the kitchen window, and --

Oh, my God!

Northern lights! A spectacular show of the aurora borealis, rising up from the hills on the far side of the river, and sending streamers back across almost the entire sky. They were a beautiful, ghostly green. I immediately woke Carolyn, and we headed outside to see them. Absolutely breathtaking.

With only three nights left in our three-month stay here in the Klondike, I was beginning despairing that we'd never see the northern lights. The first six week, here in the land of the midnight sun, it simply never got dark at night, and although there have been a few spectacularly clear nights of late, we'd seen no auroral display at all.

But last night! Last night was amazing!

(What's shown above is a stock photo, turned up by Google images, but very similar to what we saw.)

And winter has arrived here. Mercifully, it wasn't that cold out at 4:30 a.m., but this morning at 10:00 a.m. the temperature here was -5 Celsius (23 Farhenheit). Brrrr!


There are strange things done in the midnight sun
By the men who moil for gold;
The Arctic trails have their secret tales
That would make your blood run cold;
The Northern Lights have seen queer sights,
But the queerest they ever did see
Was that night on the marge of Lake Lebarge
I cremated Sam McGee.


-- Robert Service

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site


Thursday, September 20, 2007

Rollback adopted at University of Calgary



My latest novel Rollback has been adopted as required reading for the science-fiction course to be taught by Ruby Ramraj at the University of Calgary next term (Winter 2008) -- yay!

(Prof. Ramraj is also teaching an SF course this term, and she's using my first novel, Golden Fleece, as a required text.)

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site


Wednesday, September 19, 2007

T-minus One Week

Today begins my final week at the Berton House writers' retreat in Dawson City, Yukon; one week from today, on Wednesday, September 26, Carolyn and I depart for Whitehorse (the territorial capital); we'll have a day of sightseeing there, plus me doing a reading at the public library, then on Friday, September 28, we'll at last be back home in Mississauga.

It'll have been a long journey. I left Mississauga on Thursday, June 28, 2007, flying to San Francisco for the NASA Ames / SETI institute conference on "The Future of Intelligent Life in the Cosmos."

From there, I took the two-day trip to Dawson (rendezvousing with Carolyn in Vancouver), and we arrived at Berton House on Tuesday, July 3, 2007 -- and, as y'all know, in the middle of my three-month stint here, Carolyn and I took off two weeks to go to China.

It's been a wonderful, mind-expanding, productive, fun summer, and I'm sure I'll look back on it fondly for the rest of my life.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site


Monday, September 17, 2007

Robinson Crusoe on Mars -- with added RJS!



Tomorrow -- Tuesday, September 18, 2007 -- the Criterion Collection is finally releasing the cult classic SF film Robinson Crusoe on Mars on DVD ... and the bonus features include a nifty new documentary about the film produced by the redoubtable Michael Lennick, and the documentary is just chock-full of clips from an interview he did with one Robert J. Sawyer.

I've done a lot of film commentary in the past for TV shows (TVOntario's Saturday Night at the Movies and Canadian Learning Television's Books into Film, among others), but this is the first time I've been part of the special features on a DVD. I got an advance screener of the documentary, and it's quite nifty, I must say.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site


"The Galileo Seven" remastered



To our astonishment, here in Dawson, Yukon, Carolyn and I managed to catch the last half of "The Galileo Seven" remastered -- the premiere of the second year of Star Trek Remastered in syndication (our Dawson cable company feeds KTLA from Los Angeles, and they're showing Star Trek Remastered on Saturday nights at 11:00 p.m. Pacific time).

"The Galileo Seven" had lots of wonderful shuttlecraft miniature sequences in the original -- and they've all been redone as CGI. Have a look.

(The remastered episodes will be commercially released on HD DVDs in season-long box sext starting this fall.)

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site


One more song: "Sweet Jaime"



One more song from The Six Million Dollar Man, a rather sweet and romantic scene in which Steve Austin and Jaime Sommers start to get serious. Lee Majors starts singing about the 2 minute 10 second mark ...

Sweet Jaime

Speaking of canonical name spellings, by the way, the original spelling of Jaime's first name was to be "Jamie," but Lindsay Wagner accidentally misspelled it during an expensive effects shot when she was using her bionic finger to carve her name inside a heart ("Jamie + ?") on the side of a tree, and so "Jaime" became the official spelling.

Of course, I think it's perfect. Jaime, like Steve Austin, is from Ojai, California, and there "Jai" is pronounced "Hy" ("Ojai" is "Oh-Hy").

And that means "Jaime" can be read as a homonym of "Hymie" -- and Hymie was the robot character on Get Smart ... prior to the The Six Million Dollar Man and The Bionic Woman, Hymie was one of the most popular characters with mechanical parts on TV.



The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site


Toronto SF authors at Word on the Street



Once again, Toronto's Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers have taken a booth at the Word on the Street open-air book fair, being held in Queen's Park, Toronto, from 11:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. on Sunday, September 30, 2007.

The SF&F booth is #183, on the east side of Queen's Park, facing east, just south of St. Joseph Street.

In addition, from 1:00 to 1:30, Robert J. Sawyer will be reading from Rollback at the Great Books Marquee Tent at 1:00 p.m.

Signing schedule at booth 183:

* Robert J. Sawyer: 11:00 - 1:00; 1:30 to 6:00
* Terence M. Green: 11:00 - 6:00 (pictured above)
* Scott Mackay: 11:00 - 3:00
* Karl Schroeder: 11:00 - 2:00
* Phyllis Gotlieb: 3:00 - 5:00
* Andrew Weiner: 2:00 - 3:00

And Toronto's Ad Astra SF convention will be on hand from 4:00 - 6:00, promoting next year's con.

More info: thewordonthestreet.ca

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site


And then there's the Dusty Springfield theme song ...

... used for the second and third 90-minute Six Million Dollar Man TV movies in the fall of 1973, before the 60-minute series began. Dusty Springfield sings; lyrics by Glen A. Larson. (YouTube video)

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site


Sunday, September 16, 2007

Another Nick DiChario novel!

Nick DiChario has sold second novel Valley of Day-Glo to Rob Sawyer at Robert J. Sawyer Books, for February 2008 publication, via Christine Cohen of the Virginia Kidd Agency; Nancy Kress has been commissioned to write an introduction to the novel.

Nick's first novel, A Small and Remarkable Life, was previously published by Robert J. Sawyer Books (with an introduction by Mike Resnick), and was a finalist for this year's John W. Campbell Memorial Award.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site


More nifty SF music: "Gotta Get Loose"



Yes, Lee Majors himself sings this pretty cool little song called "Gotta Get Loose," from the first of the episodes from The Six Million Dollar Man that introduced the character of the bionic woman.

Couple of things to note about this YouTube clip: the opening shot is the one and only place in the whole series that establishes the canonical spelling of Steve Austin's full first name. Up to this point, it was anyone's guess wether he was really a Steven or a Stephen; here, it's clearly shown that he's Steven (he's NEVER called that in the series; all other references, even on close-ups of his ID card, are to "Steve" Austin).

Also, you want a quick and dirty guarantee of an excellent Six Million Dollar Man episode? Look for that special credit, "And ALAN OPPENHEIMER as Dr. Rudy Wells." Not only is Alan Oppenheimer one of the great TV character actors of all time (as well as brilliant voice artist -- he was Man-at-Arms and Skeletor in He-Man and the Masters of the Universe), but just about every SMDM episode he was in was intelligent and first rate. His Wikipedia entry.

Lee Majors sings "Gotta Get Loose" (video)

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site


A computer named after me!



How cool is this! A computer at the Computer Science Computing Facility's Research Group at the University of Waterloo is named after me! In fact, most of the computers there are named after science-fiction writers -- Asimov, Bradbury, LeGuin, Sawyer, Turtledove, Verne. Check it out!

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site


Saturday, September 15, 2007

Benson, Arizona



Benson, Arizona, blew warm wind through your hair

My body flies the galaxy, my heart longs to be there

Benson, Arizona, the same stars in the sky

But they seemed so much kinder when we watched them, you and I

Everyone who remembers the low-budget 1974 John Carpenter SF film Dark Star also remembers it as one of the very few SF films ever to have a country-and-western theme song.

That song, "Benson, Arizona," is immortalized here -- including an MP3 of it ripped from the soundtrack album. Had me grinning from ear to ear listening to it this afternoon.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site


Friday, September 14, 2007

Cordwainer Smith Rediscovery Award



Since we've started our deliberations for next year's recipient, it's probably time that I noted publicly that I'm now one of four jurors for the annual Cordwainer Smith Rediscovery Award. I'm replacing Gordon Van Gelder, who has stepped down to spend more time with his family; the other current jurors are Martin Harry Greenberg, Barry Malzberg, and Mike Resnick.

The award is bestowed each year at Readercon, and goes to "a science fiction or fantasy writer whose work displays unusual originality, embodies the spirit of Cordwainer Smith's fiction, and deserves renewed attention or 'Rediscovery.'" Past winners include Olaf Stapledon, R.A. Lafferty, and Leigh Brackett.

More info here.

I'm honored and thrilled to be part of the jury.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site


Percy Rodriguez, R.I.P.



Canadian actor Percy Rodriguez -- known to Classic Star Trek fans as Commodore Stone from "Court-Martial" -- has passed away.

It's hard to overstate the impact in 1967 of having Captain Kirk's superior officer be a black man, and the absolute authority and dignity Rodriguez brought to the part was perfect.

I'm sorry to see him go; I've always liked his work. He was born in Montreal in 1924.

IMDb entry

Wikipedia entry

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

Labels:


Thursday, September 13, 2007

Stephen Kotowych: That's my boy!



I'm a bit behind in announcing this, but Stephen Kotowych, one of the writers who came to see me when I was writer-in-residence at the Toronto Public Library's The Merril Collection of Science Fiction, Speculation and Fantasy in 2003, recently won the $5,000 Grand Prize in the Writers of the Future Contest, for which I'm a judge (judging is done blindly -- and, in fact, I wasn't a judge in the rounds Stephen was involved with).

After my time at the Merril, I created a writers' workshop, known as The Fledglings, with many of the most-gifted writers who came to see me there, and Stephen has been a mainstry of that. I'm absolutely thrilled that he won! The SciFi Channel's SciFi.com has a nice piece about his win here.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site


Chengdu Memories



A trip report for China's SCIENCE FICTION WORLD magazine

by Robert J. Sawyer

I'm back safe and sound in Canada after two wonderful weeks in China. The highlight for me, of course, was the Chengdu Science Fiction and Fantasy Festival, at which I won the Galaxy Award for Most Popular Foreign Author of the Year. I must say, in all my travels, all over this wonderful world, I've never before been mobbed like a rock star -- nor have I ever been treated so well. The warmth, kindness, and hospitality of everyone I met in China was a joy to behold.

I was pleased to have the opportunity to give a speech entitled "Science Fiction as a Mirror for Reality," and I was glad that it engendered some spirited discussion. Many thanks to my translator, Nick! Indeed, special thanks go to all the interpreters who worked so hard at the conference so that those of us who only speak English could be included.

I also very much enjoyed the other speeches I heard (sadly, I didn't get to hear them all!), including Betty Anne Hull's and Michael Swanwick's. As it happened, Michael was a finalist for the Hugo Award to be given out in Japan right after the Chengdu conference ended, but he couldn't recall which of the three short-fiction categories -- short story, novelette, or novella -- his nominee fell into. I had fun teasing him after his talk -- which went way over time -- about his poor ability to estimate how long something was! He took it in good humor, of course.

Although I had been friends with Nancy Kress, David Brin, and Betty Anne Hull for years, one of the many joys of Chengdu was getting to know Michael Swanwick, Neil Gaiman, and David Hill -- I'd met Michael and Neil before, but only really in passing, and had not had the pleasure of meeting David. Given the incredible heat in Chengdu, I'm glad that my usual garb at conventions is Hawaiian shirts -- instead of Neil Gaiman's heavy black leather jacket!

I was very pleased to get to visit the giant, spacious, beautiful offices of Science Fiction World. The two best-selling science-fiction magazines in English are Analog Science Fiction and Fact and Asimov's Science Fiction. In 1985, I got to go to New York City to interview the editors of each for a documentary series I was doing for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation on the history of science fiction. But I was told I couldn't see the editors (at the time, Stanley Schmidt and Gardner Dozois, respectively) on the same day -- because they shared a desk, and they couldn't both come into the office on the same day! That's how small SF publishing is in North America! Although we in the west often think of these magazines as the big boys, Science Fiction World outsells both of them combined by many times. A lot of us in the west worry about the declining sales of science fiction there; I'd say it's quite possible that the future of the genre really is in China.

And that's why I'm so proud that Science Fiction World chose to reprint a number of my "On Writing" columns, originally written for the Canadian SF magazine On Spec. To think that I've contributed, in a small way, to helping shape the next generation of Chinese SF writers makes me very happy.

One of the many things that impressed me about the conference was the huge involvement and sponsorship by the government. I totally agree with the position that reading science fiction encourages young people to go into careers in science (despite Michael Swanwick's statement in his talk at the conference). I just wish that governments elsewhere -- including my own in Canada! -- would take science fiction as seriously.

Michael's paper in the conference-proceedings book, which talked about different movements and schools of English-language SF, was very interesting, and I am looking forward to seeing what sort of schools and movements of Chinese SF develop in the years to come. I suspect it's going to diverge from what we've done in the west, taking the field in new and exciting directions.

I do want to mention how beautiful the Galaxy Award trophies is -- it's absolutely lovely. I've won other awards, but the Galaxy is, without doubt, one of the prettiest. It's going to sit right next to my Hugo in my living room in Toronto.

Everything about the conference was first-rate, but there was more to my trip to Chengdu than just that. Sichuan province has a reputation we know even in Canada for spicy, hot food -- and I'm afraid my weak western stomach was rarely up to the task. But the good company at the wonderful meals (including two hot-pot meals) was absolutely wonderful, and our hosts were always gracious and kind.

And, of course, the Chengdu area is known for panda bears. Our outing to the panda facility was amazing, and for the rest of my life I will happily remember having a panda bear sit in my lap! What an experience!

On the final night of the conference, editor Jenny Bai, Neil Gaiman, Nancy Kress, Michael Swanwick, my wife Carolyn Clink, myself, and others had a nice time unwinding in the hotel bar -- and Neil expressed the hope that it wouldn't be another 10 years before another major international SF conference in China.

I agree wholeheartedly. This was one of the very best conventions I've ever been to, and one of the absolute top experiences of my life. As it happened, I had to choose between attending the Chengdu conference or the World Science Fiction Convention, which was held the following week in Yokohama, Japan; I simply couldn't take the time to go to both. But I know I made the right choice -- and I'm very much looking forward to the next one! As those who were at the Leisure Forum just after the conference know, Carolyn, Nancy, Michael, and I -- who sang the American folk song "O Susanna" for the crowd -- really can't sing at all. But we're going to practice, and next time ... well, we'll be less bad.

To the future!


Wednesday, September 12, 2007

German Flashforward



I'm very pleased to announce the sale of a German edition of my novel Flashforward to Wilhelm Heyne Verlag, an imprint of Random House GMBH, and for a nice pile of euros, too, I might add. ;)

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site


Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Star Trek geekery: a return to Vasquez Rocks!



Vasquez Rocks in southern California is where the classic Star Trek episodes "Arena" and "Friday's Child" were filmed. And the good folks at HeroComm.com -- a site devoted to the actual original communicator props from the series -- decided to take one of the original communicators to Vasquez Rocks for a reunion, recreating the famous close-up shot of it that featured in "Friday's Child." Great fun: check it out!

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site


What is Science Fiction?

Over at Yahoo! Questions, someone asked, "What do YOU think science fiction is? Do you think it could be a prediction of the future?"

I posted this answer:


My own definition is this: Science fiction is the mainstream literature of a plausible alternative reality. That is to say, it is stories told as if to people already familiar with the story's milieu, but that milieu is one the author has contrived but could exist (or, in the case of alternate history stories, could have existed). If a story is set on a Martian colony in the year 3000 A.D., it's told as if the reader is already a member of that colony, or at least lives in a reality in which such a colony is well known (just as a mainstream novel for an American audience might in fact be set in modern Australia).

This is part of the special joy of science fiction: the reader, of course, isn't actually familiar with the milieu, and loves the process of picking up clues, artfully salted by the author, as to what the nature of the setting really is. But the skilled SF author will not stop to flat-out explicate things his or her reader, were they really contemporaries of the story's characters, would actually know.

I use the phrase "alternate reality," rather than simply calling SF "the mainstream literature of the future," in part because of the large body of work known as "alternate history" or "parallel-worlds stories," which are usually considered part of science fiction.

My definition seeks to define SF as a storytelling mode, rather than by listing an arbitrary series of tropes (spaceships, time travel, aliens), and I think it does a good job of accurately encompassing most work in the field. Of course, there are always exceptions, but I've found this definition has served me well over the years.

To your second point, yes, science fiction might sometimes predict the future, but that is rarely its intent. Just as often, as Ray Bradbury has said, it's job is to PREVENT the future. If accurate prediction were the criterion of good SF, we'd have to say that George Orwell's NINETEEN EIGHTY-FOUR was an abysmal failure because the real year 1984 turned out nothing like his prediction. But in fact Orwell's novel was a resounding success because its warning call helped us to keep the future it portrayed from becoming reality.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site


Monday, September 10, 2007

"Biding Time" in Penguin Book of Crime Stories



For those looking for my Aurora Award-nominated short story "Biding Time," it's online during the voting period here as a Word document, in the DAW science-fiction anthology Slipstreams edited by Martin H. Greenberg and John Helfers, and also, I'm pleased as punch to announce, in the wonderful new anthology The Penguin Book of Crime Stories, edited by Peter Robinson, where it appears alongside work by Michael Connelly, Laura Lippman, Ian Rankin, Eric Wright, and Robinson himself; I'm honoured and thrilled to be in such august company.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site


Actual fill-it-in Aurora ballot now available



The actual fill-it-in-and-mail-it ballot for the Aurora Awards is now available online as a PDF here.

If you're an attending member of VCon in Vancouver, voting is free; otherwise, it's Cdn$6.00 to vote -- the fees go entirely to pay for the Aurora Awards trophies (which are gorgeous and are designed and built by the wonderful Franklyn Johnson). You have to be a Canadian citizen, not necessarily living in Canada, or a permanent resident of Canada to vote.

You should mail your ballot by October 10 (exactly one month from now), or you can cast it in person at Con*Cept in Montreal or VCon in Vancouver.

And the Wiki version of the ballot is getting nicely populated with links to online versions of finalists. You can access that here.

Ballots go to:

VCON - Aurora 2007
2965, 11th Avenue West
Vancouver, BC, Canada
V6K 2M4

The Aurora Awards web site is here.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site


Sunday, September 9, 2007

Another example of how not to do it

This query, with attached manuscript, showed up in my email box today, and, yes, it was in all-caps:
DEAR SIR/MADAM

I AM A MEMBER OF WINNING WRITERS , USA.

I PICKED YOUR CONTACT DETAILS FROM ONE OF THE WIINING WRITERS WEBSITES RECENTLY..
What did our hapless wannabe do wrong?

1. "Dear Sir/Madam" -- No. Address your query to a specific editor (it takes approximately three active neurons to figure out the right name to use when sending something to an outfit called Robert J. Sawyer Books).

2. All-caps, punctuation errors, and spelling errors (no comma or colon after the salutation, space before the comma preceding USA and the meaningless punctuation combination of two periods, "wiining" instead of "winning"); if you can't be bothered to write in proper English, I can't be bothered to read your manuscript.

3. "I picked your contact details from one of the Wiining Writers websites recently." In other words, you've never even seen a book that I've published, you've never visited the line's website, you've never even read my submission guidelines. I have zero reason to think what you've sent me might be in any way suited for my line.

I rejected the submission, unread, in 10 seconds, and even that was more time than this clown deserved. Folks, it's not that hard to do it right. For starters, read the advice on my website.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site


Cathy Palmer-Lister and On-Site Aurora Voting at Con*Cept

Cathy Palmer-Lister, the chair of Con*Cept, the Montreal regional SF convention, agreed several days ago to having on-site voting for the Auroras this year at Con*Cept (in addition to the on-site voting at VCon in Vancouver, the actual venue for the Aurora ceremony this year).

The world should note that having on-site voting at Con*Cept was my idea, not hers. And that she agreed to it before the nominees in the Aurora category of "Fan Organizational" were revealed (or were contacted to be informed that they were nominees). As it happens, Cathy is a finalist in that category, for her wonderful work on last year's Con*Cept.

Cathy immediately announced to Dennis Mullin (Aurora administrator), Clint Budd (president of WCSFA, the umbrella organization for VCon, this year's CanVention), Michael Walsh (this year's CanVention coordinator), and myself (who had proposed on-site voting in Montreal) that she felt she should decline her nomination if there was to be on-site voting at Con*Cept, because of the perceived conflict of interest.

Cathy's sense of ethics is laudable, and we all thanked her for displaying such class, but every one of us also told her to let her nomination stand. We all know that she is beyond reproach, and told her so. As Michael Walsh said, "Dennis Mullin speaks for all of us in expressing admiration for and confidence in your personal ethics."

Dennis Mullin himself is traveling, at his own expense, to Con*Cept to supervise the on-site voting there to make sure not only that it is fair, but that it is seen to be fair (and many thanks to Dennis for doing so). Given this, and our reassurances, Cathy has decided to let her nomination stand, and there will indeed be on-site voting at both VCon and Con*Cept.

Congratulations to all the nominees in Cathy's category, every one of whom has done wonderful work for the fandom groups they belong to:
  • Debbie Hodgins (Avenging Dragon Squadron, KAG/Kanada)
  • Roy Miles (I.D.I.C.)
  • Cathy Palmer-Lister (Con*Cept)
  • Joan Sherman (I.D.I.C.)
  • Geoffrey Toop (DWIN)
Now, to the voting!

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site


Saturday, September 8, 2007

I was not in Japan this year

So, now there's a rumor that a fan saw me in Kyoto around the time of the Worldcon in Yokohama.

I was NOT -- absolutely not -- in Japan at any time this year. Jeepers, if I was in Japan, you think I'd pass up the chance to go to Worldcon? Besides the fact that I love Worldcons, it would have made any trip to Japan tax-deductible.

Yes, I was in China (in Chengdu) for a conference prior to the Worldcon in Yokohama. Those cities are 3,340 km or 2,077 miles apart; there was no way I could just "pop over" to Japan; that's more ridiculous than saying, "Hey, I hear you're in Chicago -- you really should drop by Los Angeles."

It would have cost, at a rough estimate, $2,000 minimum for my wife and me to add a side-trip to Japan onto our trip to China; that's the reason we weren't there.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site


CanadianSF.com has links to Aurora nominees



The final ballot of the Aurora Awards is now available, at long last. I've added a wiki version of the list of finalists to the Canadian SF Works Database that Marcel Gagné and I created earlier this year. If you know of a nominated work that is available online, go there and add a hyperlink to the list, please.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site


Jet-Lag Sucks!

After two weeks in China, Carolyn and I are struggling mightily with Jet-lag. It's 15 hours earlier here in Dawson than it is in Beijing, and our internal clocks are not adjusting. We finally got to sleep at 7:00 a.m. this morning and got up at almost 2:00 this afternoon -- which would have been perfectly normal in China (being 10:00 p.m. and 5:00 a.m., respectively, there).

At least it now gets dark at night in Dawson (we had 21 hours of daylight when we first arrived, and that played havoc with our internal clocks, too). We arrive back in Toronto (which is three hours ahead of Dawson!) in 20 days -- hopefully by that point we'll at least be on Dawson time ...

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site


Thursday, September 6, 2007

100th Award Nomination



With the just-announced nomination of my short story "Biding Time" for Canada's Aurora Award, I've hit a major career milestone: my 100th award nomination. It's a number that astonishes and delights me, and it breaks down thus (the number in brackets is actual wins):

Analog Analytical Laboratory Award: 1 (1)

Aurora Award: 33 (9)

Barry R. Levin SF Literature Collectors Award: 1 (1)

Bram Stoker Award: 1 (0)

CompuServe SF Forums' HOMer Award: 12 (9)

Crime Writers of Canada's Arthur Ellis Award: 3 (1)

Denver Rocky Mountain News's Rocky Award: 1 (1)

Galaxy Award (China): 1 (1)

Gaylactic Spectrum Award: 2 (0)

Honorary Doctorate: 1 (1)

Hugo Award: 10 (1)

Italia (Italy): 1 (0)

John W. Campbell Memorial Award: 3 (1)

Le Grand Prix L'Imaginaire (France): 1 (1)

Locus Award: 5 (0)

Mississauga Arts Council Award: 1 (1)

Mississauga Civic Award of Recognition: 1 (1)

Nebula Award: 3 (1)

Ontario Library Association's Evergreen Award: 1 (0)

Premio UPC de Ciencia Ficcion (Spain): 4 (3)

Ryerson Alumni Award of Distinction: 1 (1)

Science Fiction Chronicle Reader Award: 3 (1)

Seiun Award (Japan): 9 (3)

Toronto Public Library Celebrates Reading Award: 1 (1)

Of course, the exact count of such things is a debatable matter. Some awards, like the Mississauga Arts Council Award, don't announce a short list, but if you've won it, as I have, you were obviously nominated.

And I've excluded some nominations. For instance, the above tally doesn't list my two Aurora Award nominations in fan categories. I've also left out nine appearances on the Preliminary Nebula Award ballot that didn't end up on the final ballot, as well as an earlier nomination for an honorary doctorate, prior to the one I received this year, since that nomination list was never made public.

Still, it's as good a time as any to call it an even 100. Go me! :) Oh, and by the way, out of those 100 nominations, I've had 39 wins ... not that anyone's counting. ;)

Incidentally, the Aurora nominations break down to 15 for novels, 11 for short stories, and 7 in the "Other" professional category (and I've won 4, 4, and 1, respectively, in those categories).

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site


Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Astronomicon canceled?

It looks like Astronomicon, the wonderful little SF con in Rochester, New York, has been canceled for this year. It was to have been November 9-11, 2007, but that info is gone from their website, which now says "Our next convention will be held in November, 2008."

I was guest of honor at Astronomicon 5 in 1996, and have attended most years since. The website is here.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site


Back at Berton House



After a wonderful two-week trip to China, Carolyn and I are back at Berton House in Dawson, Yukon. We'll be here for 24 more days.

I still plan to get more pictures and commentary up about the Chengdu SF conference, but for now -- back to work on my novel!

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site


Back in Canada

Carolyn and I have made it safe and sound to Whitehorse, the capital of the Yukon. Tomorrow at 7:00 a.m., we take the final flight from Whitehorse to Dawson, and return to Berton House. All is well, but we're exhausted.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site


Sunday, September 2, 2007

A Call for On-Site Aurora Voting at Con*Cept

A Call for On-Site Aurora Voting at Con*Cept

We now face a major crisis -- yet again -- related to the credibility of the Aurora Awards, thanks to the tardiness of release of the final ballot.

The facts:

1) For good or ill, VCon, the convention at which the Aurora Awards will be presented in Vancouver, has taken the decision to have on-site voting for the Aurora Awards this year.

2) The final Aurora Award ballot has been delayed yet again. With the ceremony scheduled for next month, and no list of nominees available, readers will have very little time to evaluate and vote on works.

As it happens, though, one of Canada's major regional conventions takes place just one week prior to VCon: Con*Cept in Montreal is October 12-14, 2007; VCon is October 19-21, 2007. As it also happens, VCon is the westernmost annual regional convention left in Canada and Con*Cept is the easternmost.

To salvage this year's Auroras -- a year in which no eligibility lists were ever released, a year in which the final ballot has been repeatedly and unconscionably delayed, a year in which the host convention has broken with tradition and decided unilaterally to have local on-site voting -- it seems to me that the CanVention and Aurora administrators should immediately arrange to have on-site voting at BOTH VCon AND Con*Cept, with members of both conventions being allowed to vote for free (in addition to the normal paid by-mail balloting), with the proviso that those who happen to be attending both conventions still may only vote once.

The Prix Aurora Awards are national, bilingual awards; most of Canadian fandom is being disenfranchised by the ridiculously late release of the ballot this year; the only possible salvation for this year's awards is to encourage maximum voter participation despite the irregularities and delays -- and the lucky happenstance that Con*Cept ends five days before VCon begins affords an opportunity that should not be missed.

Doubtless some suspicious soul will now ask how this affects me personally. The answer: not at all. I won't be at VCon (instead, I will be at the Harbourfront International Festival of Authors in Toronto) and I won't be at Con*Cept (instead, I will be at WordFest: The Banff-Calgary International Writers Festival), and I DON'T have a novel eligible this year. But the Auroras are in crisis, and I call upon the administrators of this year's awards to take at least this step to ameliorate the problem.

Robert J. Sawyer
in Beijing


Dennis Mullin rescinds his promise

Yup, that's right: Dennis promised -- his word -- that he'd FINALLY have the Aurora Ballot done by Labor Day. But apparently that's not to be; the promise has disappeared from the Aurora website, to be replaced with: "Apologies for the delays. 2007 voting ballot will become available later this week. As well as mail-in voting, there will be on-site voting at VCON on Saturday, October 20, ending at 6pm."

Sigh.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site


Paleozoological Muesum of China

Today, Sunday, September 2, was our last full day in Beijing. Once again, the wonderful Juana and Dede were our guides. We started with shopping (well, the women shopped -- I parked myself in the English-language bookstore and browsed). Then it was off to lunch at a restaurant Juana recommended -- terrific.

After that it was my turn to be indulged: we visited an electronics supermarket and then went to the Paleozoological Museum of China, which houses some of the most famous fossils in the world right now: key specimens showing that birds did indeed evolve from dinosaurs.



Robert J. Sawyer outside the museum



T. rex greets Robert J. Sawyer and Carolyn Clink



Mamenchisaurus looms over all



Tsintaosaurus, a Chinese hadrosaur



A coelacanth in a pickle



Jurassic showdown: a Chinese stegosaur vs. a theropod



And the stars of the show: the feathered dinos! Microraptor gui



Confusciusornis



Rob's old friend Peking Man, about whom he wrote an Aurora Award-winning short story.


The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site


Beijing: Summer Palace, Kung Fu

Yesterday (Saturday, September 1, 2007) Carolyn and I were met at our hotel (the Park Plaza Beijing) by Juana, a lovely woman who had worked as a translator at the Chengdu SF conference, and her friend Dede -- and also by a wonderful guide we'd hired for the day who used the western name Remington. We piled into two cabs and headed off to the glorious Summer Palace



We began by watching a sample of Beijing Opera



The Summer Palace is gorgeous.



Dede, Juana, Robert J. Sawyer, Carolyn Clink



Then we headed back to the city, and took a ride via rickshaw through a hutong -- a traditional Beijing neighborhood.



The hutong visit included a traditional -- and excellent! -- lunch in a family's home ... sort of like a bed-and-breakfast, except you don't sleep over, and it's lunch. :)



Our guide Remington. A full-day of his services costs 280 RMB, which is just US$40; I gave him a US$60 tip (not that any was required or expected), and he was still a bargain.



In the evening, we attended an amazing kung fu show -- really, a play done in pantomime with lots of kung fu in it and a cast of about 30; we weren't allowed to take pictures during the performance, but here's my ticket.

An absolutely perfect day, thanks to Juana and Dede, who arranged everything (including Remington) and were wonderful hosts.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site