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Robert J. Sawyer
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Robert J. Sawyer

Robert James Sawyer (born April 29, 1960) is a Canadian science fiction writer.[1] He has had 21 novels published,[2] and his short fiction has appeared in Analog Science Fiction and Fact, Amazing Stories, On Spec, Nature, and many anthologies.[3][4] Sawyer has won over forty awards for his fiction,[2][5] including the Nebula Award (1995),[6] the Hugo Award (2003),[7] and the John W. Campbell Memorial Award (2006).[8]

Sawyer was born in Ottawa and is now a resident of Mississauga.



Style and themes

Sawyer's work frequently explores the intersection between science and religion, with rationalism frequently winning out over mysticism[9] (see especially Far-Seer, The Terminal Experiment, Calculating God, and the three volumes of the Neanderthal Parallax [Hominids, Humans, and Hybrids], plus the short story "The Abdication of Pope Mary III," originally published in Nature, July 6, 2000).

He has a great fondness for paleontology, as evidenced in his Quintaglio Ascension trilogy (Far-Seer, Fossil Hunter, and Foreigner), about an alien world to which dinosaurs from Earth were transplanted, and his time-travel novel End of an Era. In addition, the main character of Calculating God is a paleontologist, Wake features a chase scene at the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology in Beijing, and the Neanderthal Parallax novels deal with an alternate version of Earth where Neanderthals did not become extinct.

Sawyer often explores the notion of copied or uploaded human consciousness, mind uploading, most fully in his novel Mindscan, but also in Flashforward, Golden Fleece, The Terminal Experiment, "Identity Theft", "Biding Time", and "Shed Skin".

His interest in consciousness studies is also apparent in Wake, which deals with the spontaneous emergence of consciousness in the infrastructure of the World Wide Web. His interest in quantum physics, and especially quantum computing, inform the short stories "You See But You Do Not Observe"[10] (a Sherlock Holmes pastiche) and "Iterations,"[11] and the novels Factoring Humanity and Hominids.

SETI, the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, plays a role in the plots of Golden Fleece, Factoring Humanity, Mindscan, Rollback, the novelette "Ineluctable," and the short stories "You See But You Do Not Observe" and "Flashes." Sawyer gives cosmology a thorough workout in his far-future Starplex.[12]

Real-life science institutions are often used as settings by Sawyer, including TRIUMF in End of an Era, CERN in Flashforward, the Royal Ontario Museum in Calculating God, the Sudbury Neutrino Observatory in Hominids and its sequels, and the Arecibo Observatory in Rollback.

Another Sawyer hallmark is the mortally ill main character. Pierre Tardivel in Frameshift suffers from Huntington's disease, Thomas Jericho in Calculating God has lung cancer, and Jacob Sullivan in Mindscan has an arteriovenous malformation in his brain; one of the main characters in Rollback vividly suffers from that most fatal illness of all, old age. Sawyer nonetheless is known for tales that end on an upbeat, and even transcendent, note.[13]

Sawyer is unusual even among Canadian SF writers for the blatantly Canadian settings and concerns addressed in his novels, all of which are issued by New York houses. His politics are often described as liberal by Canadian standards (although he contributed a story called "The Hand You're Dealt"[14] to the Libertarian SF anthology Free Space, and another called "The Right's Tough"[15] to the Libertarian SF anthology Visions of Liberty). He holds citizenship in both Canada and the United States, and has been known to criticize the politics of both countries. He often has American characters visiting Canada (such as Karen Bessarian in Mindscan and Caitlin Decter in Wake) or Canadian characters visiting the U.S. (such as Pierre Tardivel in Frameshift and Mary Vaughan in Humans and Hybrids) as a way of comparing and contrasting the perceived values of the two countries.

Sawyer's simple style and clear prose have been compared by Orson Scott Card to those of Isaac Asimov.[16][17] He has a tendency to include pop-culture references in his novels (his fondness for the original Star Trek, The Six Million Dollar Man, and Planet of the Apes is impossible to miss).

SF/Mystery crossovers

Sawyer's work often crosses over from science fiction to mystery; he won both Canada's top SF award (the Aurora Award) and its top mystery-fiction award (the Arthur Ellis Award) for his 1993 short story "Just Like Old Times."[18] Illegal Alien is a courtroom drama with an extraterrestrial defendant; Hominids puts one Neanderthal on trial by his peers for the apparent murder of another Neanderthal; Mindscan has the rights of uploaded consciousnesses explored in a Michigan probate court; and Golden Fleece, Fossil Hunter, The Terminal Experiment, Frameshift, and Flashforward are all, in part, murder mysteries. Of Sawyer's shorter SF works, the novella "Identity Theft" and the short stories "Biding Time," "Flashes," "Iterations," "Shed Skin," "The Stanley Cup Caper," "You See But You Do Not Observe," "The Hand You're Dealt," and the aforementioned "Just Like Old Times" are all also crime or mystery fiction.

Editing and scholarly work

In addition to his own writing, Sawyer edits the Robert J. Sawyer Books[19] science-fiction imprint for Red Deer Press, part of Canadian publisher Fitzhenry & Whiteside; contributes to The New York Review of Science Fiction;[20] is The Canadian Encyclopedias authority on science fiction;[21] and is a judge for L. Ron Hubbard's Writers of the Future[22] contest.

Film and television

In May 2009, ABC ordered 13 episodes of hour-long dramatic TV series FlashForward for the 2009-2010 season, based on Sawyer's similarly titled novel, after successful production in February and March 2009 of a pilot episode scripted by David S. Goyer and Brannon Braga, directed by Goyer, and starring Joseph Fiennes and Sonya Walger.[23] After some adjustments, the first season was set to consist of 22 episodes.[24] Sawyer is story consultant on each episode of the series[25] and penned the 19th episode, titled "Course Correction".[26]

Sawyer wrote the original series bible for Charlie Jade, an hour-long science-fiction TV series that first aired in 2005-2006, and he did conceptual work in 2003 for reviving Robotech. He has also written and narrated documentaries about science fiction for CBC Radio's Ideas series, and he hosted the 17-part weekly half-hour documentary series Supernatural Investigator for Canada's Vision TV, which premiered January 27, 2009.[27] He provided analysis of the British science fiction series Doctor Who for the CBC's online documentary The Planet of the Doctor,[28] frequently comments on science fiction movies for TVOntario's Saturday Night at the Movies, and co-edited an essay collection in honor of the fortieth anniversary of Star Trek with David Gerrold, titled Boarding the Enterprise.

Teaching and public speaking

Sawyer has taught science-fiction writing at the University of Toronto, Ryerson University, Humber College, and the Banff Centre. In 2000, he served as Writer-in-Residence at the Richmond Hill, Ontario, Public Library. In 2003, he was Writer-in-Residence at the Toronto Public Library's Merril Collection of Science Fiction, Speculation and Fantasy (the first person to hold this post since Judith Merril herself in 1987).[29] In 2006, he was Writer-in-Residence at the Odyssey Writing Workshop. Also in 2006, he was the Edna Staebler Writer-in-Residence at the Kitchener Public Library in the Region of Waterloo, Ontario,[30] following on the Region of Waterloo's choice of Sawyer's Hominids as the "One Book, One Community"[31] title that all 490,000 residents were encouraged to read in 2005. In 2007 he was the Berton House Writer-in-Residence at Berton House in Dawson City. In 2009, he was the first-ever Writer-in-Residence at the Canadian Light Source, Canada's national synchrotron facility in Saskatoon.[32]

Sawyer is a frequent keynote speaker about technology topics,[33][34] and has served as a consultant to Canada's Federal Department of Justice on the shape future genetics laws should take.[35]

Influence and recognition

Robert J. Sawyer on Bookbits radio.

Canadian cultural significance

Sawyer has long been an advocate of Canadian science fiction. He lobbied hard for the creation of the Canadian Region of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. The Canadian Region was established in 1992, and Sawyer served for three years on SFWA's Board of Directors as the first Canadian Regional Director (1992 1995). He also edited the newsletter of the Canadian Region, called Alouette in honor of Canada's first satellite; the newsletter was nominated for an Aurora Award for best fanzine.

International reception

In addition to his popularity at home, Sawyer's work is well received internationally. All of his novels have been issued by New York publishing houses and translated editions have appeared in Bulgarian, Chinese, Czech, Dutch, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Polish, Romanian, Russian, Serbian, and Spanish.[2] Sawyer has won major international awards for his writing including the Hugo Award (selected by attending and supporting members of Worldcon), the Nebula Award (selected by members of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America) and the jury-selected John W. Campbell Memorial Award for Best Science Fiction Novel.[5]

Professional associations

In 1998, Sawyer was elected president of SFWA on a platform that promised a referendum on various contentious issues, including periodic membership requalification and the creation of a Nebula Award for best script; he won, defeating the next-closest candidate, past-SFWA-president Norman Spinrad, by a 3:2 margin. However, Sawyer's actual time in office was marked by considerable opposition to membership requalification and negative reaction to his dismissing, with the majority support of the Board of Directors, one paid SFWA worker and one volunteer. He resigned after completing half of his one-year term, and was automatically succeeded by then-incumbent vice-president Paul Levinson. Prior to resigning, Sawyer's promised referendum was held, resulting in significant changes to SFWA's bylaws and procedures, most notably allowing appropriate non-North American sales to count as membership credentials, allowing appropriate electronic sales to count as membership credentials, and creating a Nebula Award for best script.

Sawyer has been active in other writers' organizations, including the Crime Writers of Canada, the Horror Writers Association, and the Writers' Union of Canada[36] (for which he has served on the membership committee), and he is a member of the Writers Guild of Canada, which represents Canadian scriptwriters.

Major awards

  • 1991 Aurora Award for Best Long Work in English, for Golden Fleece
  • 1992 Homer Award for Best Novel, for Far-Seer
  • 1993 Arthur Ellis Award for Best Short Story, for "Just Like Old Times"
  • 1993 Homer Award for Best Novel, for Fossil Hunter
  • 1995 Le Grand Prix de l'Imaginaire for Best Foreign Short Story, "You See But You Do Not Observe"
  • 1995 Nebula Award for Best Novel, for The Terminal Experiment[37]
  • 1995 Aurora Award for Best Long Work in English, for The Terminal Experiment
  • 1996 Seiun Award for Best Foreign Novel, for End of an Era
  • 1996 Aurora Award for Best Long Work in English, for Starplex
  • 1997 Science Fiction Chronicle Reader Award for Best Short Story, for "The Hand You're Dealt"
  • 1999 Aurora Award for Best Long Work in English, for Flashforward
  • 2000 Seiun Award for Best Foreign Novel, for Frameshift
  • 2002 Seiun Award for Best Foreign Novel, for Illegal Alien
  • 2003 Hugo Award for Best Novel, for Hominids[38]
  • 2005 Analog Analytical Laboratory Award for Best Short Story, for "Shed Skin"
  • 2005 Aurora Award for Best Work in English (Other) for Relativity
  • 2006 John W. Campbell Memorial Award for Best Science Fiction Novel, for Mindscan[39]
  • 2007 Toronto Public Library Celebrates Reading Award
  • 2007 Galaxy Award (China) for "Most Popular Foreign Author"
  • 2007 Aurora Award for Best Short Work in English, for "Biding Time"
  • 2010 Aurora Award for Best Long Form in English, for Wake
  • 2010 Hugo Award nominee in the Best Novel category for Wake[40]

  • 2011 Aurora Award for Best Science Fiction Novel in Canada, for Watch



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