Robert J. Sawyer

From Academic Kids

Robert J. Sawyer (born April 29, 1960) is a Canadian science fiction writer, dubbed "the dean of Canadian science fiction" by The Ottawa Citizen newspaper in 1999. He describes himself as a "hard science-fiction writer," but he is more concerned with characterization and human psychology than many other practitioners of that subgenre. His work often delves into metaphysics, la Arthur C. Clarke, and philosophy; he very much comes from the school that says science fiction is the literature of ideas.

Robert James Sawyer was born in Ottawa, grew up in Toronto, and now lives in Mississauga, Ontario. He attended Ryerson University in Toronto, where he received a Bachelor of Applied Arts degree in Radio and Television Arts in 1982; twenty years later, he was given that university's Alumni Award of Distinction in honor of his international success as a science fiction writer.

Sawyer has won thirty-five national and international awards for his fiction, most prominently the 1995 Nebula Award for his novel The Terminal Experiment, and the 2003 Hugo Award for his novel Hominids, first volume of his Neanderthal Parallax trilogy; he has eight additional Hugo nominations under his belt. His fiction has received starred reviews (denoting books of exceptional merit) in Publishers Weekly, Booklist, Quill & Quire, and Kliatt. His books have appeared on the top-ten national mainstream bestsellers' lists in Canada, as published by The Globe and Mail and Maclean's magazine, and they've hit number one on the bestsellers' list published by Locus, the trade-journal of the SF field. Translated editions have appeared in Bulgarian, Chinese, Czech, Dutch, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Polish, Russian, Serbian, and Spanish, and he has won SF awards in Canada, France, Japan, Spain, and the United States.

Sawyer's short fiction has appeared in Analog Science Fiction, Amazing Stories, On Spec, and numerous anthologies. In addition to his own writing, he edits the Robert J. Sawyer Books science-fiction imprint for Red Deer Press; teaches science-fiction writing at the University of Toronto and the Banff Centre; contributes to The New York Review of Science Fiction; is The Canadian Encyclopedia's authority on science fiction; and is a judge for L. Ron Hubbard's Writers of the Future contest. He is profiled in Canadian Who's Who, Contemporary Authors volume 212, Something About the Author volume 81, St. James Guide to Science Fiction Writers, and The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction. The hour-long documentary In the Mind of Robert J. Sawyer debuted on Canadian television on January 8, 2003, and has been shown numerous times since on various channels, including Space: The Imagination Station, for which Sawyer is a frequent commentator.

Stylistically, Sawyer is known for simple, clear prose, in the mode of Isaac Asimov; this perhaps comes from Sawyer's original career in the 1980s as a writer of nonfiction for magazines. He also has a tendency to include pop-culture references in his novels (his fondness for the original Star Trek and Planet of the Apes is impossible to miss), and he 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.

Sawyer's politics are often described as liberal, even by Canadian standards (although he contributed a Hugo Award-nominated story called "The Hand You're Dealt" to the Libertarian SF anthology Free Space). Although he is a dual US/Canadian citizen, he is sometimes seen as being critical of the United States (however a close reading of his work often reveals similar criticisms of Canada; see in particular the denouncing of former Ontario Progressive Conservative premier Mike Harris in Calculating God).

Sawyer's work frequently explores the intersection between science and religion, with rationalism always winning out over mysticism (see especially 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 also 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, and the Neanderthal Parallax novels deal with an alternate version of Earth where Neanderthals did not go extinct.

He often explores the notion of copied or uploaded human consciousness, most fully in his novel Mindscan, but also in Golden Fleece and The Terminal Experiment, plus the novella "Identity Theft" and its sequel short story "Biding Time," and the Hugo-nominated short story "Shed Skin." His interest in quantum physics, and especially quantum computing, inform the short stories "You See But You Do Not Observe" (a Sherlock Holmes pastiche) and "Iterations," 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, 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. 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, and the Sudbury Neutrino Observatory in Hominids and its sequels.

Sawyer's work often crosses over from science fiction to mystery, and indeed he won both Canada's top SF award (the Aurora) and its top mystery-fiction award (the Arthur Ellis) for his 1993 short story "Just Like Old Times." 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. It's perhaps no surprise, then, that Sawyer has served as a consultant to Canada's Federal Department of Justice on the shape future genetics laws should take.

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. Perhaps ironically, Sawyer nonetheless is known for tales that end on an upbeat, and even transcendent, note.


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  • Golden Fleece (1990)
  • Far-Seer (1992) - Part 1 of the Quintaglio Ascension
  • Fossil Hunter (1993) - Part 2 of the Quintaglio Ascension
  • Foreigner (1994) - Part 3 of the Quintaglio Ascension
  • End of an Era (1994)
  • The Terminal Experiment - Serialized as Hobson's Choice in Analog Science Fiction (1995)
  • Starplex - Serialized in Analog Science Fiction (1996)
  • Frameshift (1997)
  • Illegal Alien (1997)
  • Factoring Humanity (1998)
  • Flashforward (1999)
  • Calculating God (2000)
  • Iterations - Short stories (2002)
  • Hominids - Part 1 of the Neanderthal Parallax - Serialized in Analog Science Fiction (2002)
  • Humans - Part 2 of the Neanderthal Parallax (2003)
  • Hybrids - Part 3 of the Neanderthal Parallax (2003)
  • Relativity - Short stories and essays (2004)
  • Mindscan (2005)

Selected 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
  • 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

See also

eo:Robert J. SAWYER nl:Robert J. Sawyer


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