Robert J. Sawyer

Robert J. Sawyer
Born (1960-04-29) April 29, 1960
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
Occupation Novelist
Nationality Canadian
Alma mater Ryerson University
Genre Science fiction, Mystery

Robert James Sawyer CM (born April 29, 1960) is a Canadian science fiction writer.[2] He has had 23 novels published,[3] and his short fiction has appeared in Analog Science Fiction and Fact, Amazing Stories, On Spec, Nature, and many anthologies.[4][5] Sawyer has won[6][7] the Nebula Award (1995),[8] the Hugo Award (2003),[9] and the John W. Campbell Memorial Award (2006).[10]

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


Style and themes

Many themes have been identified in Sawyer's work including the exploration of science and religion, hacking the human consciousness, SETI (the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence), and mortality. He often sets his works in Canada.

Sawyer's work frequently explores the intersection between science and religion, with rationalism frequently winning out over mysticism[11] (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).

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"[12] (a Sherlock Holmes pastiche) and "Iterations,"[13] 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.[14] 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.[15]

Sawyer features Canadian settings and concerns 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"[16] to the Libertarian SF anthology Free Space, and another called "The Right's Tough"[17] 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.[18][19] 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 often evident).

Sawyer provided his own list of themes, topics and motifs that occur in his works which he posted on his blog at sfwriter. [20] Sawyer's own list includes:

SF/Mystery crossovers

Sawyer's work often crosses over from science fiction to mystery; he won both Canada's top SF award (the Prix Aurora Award) and its top mystery-fiction award (the Arthur Ellis Award) for his 1993 short story "Just Like Old Times."[21] 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[22] science-fiction imprint for Red Deer Press, part of Canadian publisher Fitzhenry & Whiteside; contributes to The New York Review of Science Fiction;[23] is The Canadian Encyclopedia's authority on science fiction;[24] and is a judge for L. Ron Hubbard's Writers of the Future[25] 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.[26] After some adjustments, the first season was set to consist of 22 episodes.[27] Sawyer is story consultant on each episode of the series[28] and penned the 19th episode, titled "Course Correction".[29]

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.[30] He provided analysis of the British science fiction series Doctor Who for the CBC's online documentary The Planet of the Doctor,[31] 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).[32] 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,[33] following on the Region of Waterloo's choice of Sawyer's Hominids as the "One Book, One Community"[34] 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.[35]

Sawyer is a frequent keynote speaker about technology topics,[36][37] and has served as a consultant to Canada's Federal Department of Justice on the shape future genetics laws should take.[38]

Influence and recognition

Robert J. Sawyer on Bookbits radio.


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 a Prix Aurora Award for best fanzine.

Sawyer is to be awarded an Honorary Doctor of Laws from the University of Winnipeg in June, 2014.[39]

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, Hungarian, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Polish, Romanian, Russian, Serbian, and Spanish.[40] 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.[7]

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[41] (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



  1. Robert J. Sawyer (2007). "Autobiography from Dual Citizenship". Retrieved 2011-06-26.
  2. Robert J. Sawyer (2003). "Autobiography from Contemporary Authors". Retrieved 2009-09-26.
  3. Robert J. Sawyer (2007). "Robert J. Sawyer Curriculum Vitae". Retrieved 2007-08-08.
  4. Robert J. Sawyer (2007). "Short-Fiction Bibliography". Retrieved 2007-09-25.
  5. Charles N. Brown and William G. Contento (2007). "The Locus Index to Science Fiction (1984–1998)". Retrieved 2007-12-06.
  6. Robert J. Sawyer (2009). "Robert J. Sawyer Curriculum Vitae". Retrieved 2009-06-02.
  7. 1 2 Mark R. Kelly (2007). "Locus Index to Science Fiction Awards". Retrieved 2007-09-25.
  8. SFWRITER.COM Inc. (1995). "Nebula Award win for The Terminal Experiment". Retrieved 2007-09-25.
  9. SFWRITER.COM Inc. (2003). "Hugo Award win for Hominids". Retrieved 2007-09-25.
  10. SFWRITER.COM Inc. (2006). "John W. Campbell Memorial Award win for Mindscan". Retrieved 2007-09-25.
  11. J. Sydney Jones (2004). "Something About the Author on Robert J. Sawyer (Sidelights)". Retrieved 2007-12-06.
  12. Robert J. Sawyer (1995). "You See But You Do Not Observe (short story)". Retrieved 2007-09-25.
  13. Robert J. Sawyer (2000). "Iterations (short story)". Retrieved 2007-09-25.
  14. Andrew Fraknoi (1997). "Science Fiction Stories with Good Science". Retrieved 2007-12-06.
  15. Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (2007-08-28). "Sawyer says Chinese readers see freedom in sci-fi's ideas". CBC News. Retrieved 2007-12-06.
  16. Robert J. Sawyer (1997). "The Hand You're Dealt (short story)". Retrieved 2007-09-25.
  17. Robert J. Sawyer (2004). "The Right's Tough (short story)". Retrieved 2007-09-25.
  18. Orson Scott Card (1990). "Review of Golden Fleece". Retrieved 2007-08-11.
  19. Historica Foundation of Canada (2007). "The Canadian Encyclopedia on Robert J. Sawyer". Retrieved 2007-12-04.
  20. "Science Fiction Writer Robert J. Sawyer: Themes". Retrieved 2016-04-17.
  21. Robert J. Sawyer (1993). "Just Like Old Times (short story)". Retrieved 2007-09-25.
  22. Red Deer Press (2007). "Robert J. Sawyer Books Submission Guidelines". Retrieved 2007-12-06.
  23. The BRB Catalogue (2007). "New York Review of Science Fiction #176 to current". Retrieved 2007-12-06.
  24. Robert J. Sawyer (2007). "Science Fiction in The Canadian Encyclopedia". Retrieved 2007-12-04.
  25. Writers of the Future (2007). "List of Judges". Archived from the original on 2007-09-09. Retrieved 2007-09-25.
  26. Nellie Andreeva (2009). "ABC picks up 'Flash Forward'". Archived from the original on May 14, 2009. Retrieved 2009-05-09.
  27. Josef Adalian (2009). "ABC's 'FlashForward' Finds New Leaders". Retrieved 2010-04-13.
  28. SFWRITER.COM Inc. (2008). "TV rights to Sawyer's novel Flashforward sold to ABC". Retrieved 2009-05-09.
  29. SFWRITER.COM Inc. (2010). "On FlashForward set Watching the Episode I Wrote Being Filmed". Retrieved 2010-04-13.
  30. SFWA Pressbook (2009). "Robert J. Sawyer hosts Supernatural Investigator". Retrieved 2009-01-28.
  31. Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (2005). "Planet of the Doctor". Archived from the original on 2007-08-12. Retrieved 2007-09-25.
  32. SFWRITER.COM Inc. (2003). "Merril Collection Writer-in-Residence". Retrieved 2007-09-25.
  33. Robert J. Sawyer blog (2006). "Edna Staebler Writer-in-Residence". Retrieved 2007-09-25.
  34. Region of Waterloo (2005). "One Book, One Community chooses Hominids". Retrieved 2007-09-25.
  35. Ashleigh Mattern (2009). "Light Speed, Mr. Sawyer – Engage!". Retrieved 2009-05-10.
  36. Robert J. Sawyer (2007). "Keynotes and Talks". Retrieved 2007-12-05.
  37. Speakers' Spotlight (2007). "Robert J. Sawyer: The Challenge of Tomorrow". Retrieved 2007-12-05.
  38. Steven H Silver (2003). "Genetics Future Forum Includes Author". Archived from the original on 2008-04-29. Retrieved 2007-12-05.
  39. "Five exceptional people to be honoured at Spring Convocation" (8 May 2014). NewsCentre, University of Winnipeg. Retrieved 20 May 2014.
  40. Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya (2007). "Robert J. Sawyer Curriculum Vitae". Retrieved 2007-08-08.
  41. The Writers' Union of Canada (2007). "Membership Directory". Retrieved 2007-09-25.
  42. "1995 Award Winners & Nominees". Worlds Without End. Retrieved 2009-05-16.
  43. "2003 Award Winners & Nominees". Worlds Without End. Retrieved 2009-05-16.
  44. "2006 Award Winners & Nominees". Worlds Without End. Retrieved 2009-05-16.
  45. "The 2010 Hugo and John W. Campbell Award Nominees". AussieCon 4. April 4, 2010. Retrieved April 4, 2010.
  46. "Governor General Announces 113 New Appointments to the Order of Canada".
  47. Robert J. Sawyer. "Wonder".
  48. "Robert J Sawyer – Red Planet Blues cover art reveal (and release date!)".
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