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Robert J. Sawyer
Robert James Sawyer (born April 29, 1960) is a Canadian science fiction writer. He has had 23 novels published, and his short fiction has appeared in Analog Science Fiction and Fact, Amazing Stories, On Spec, Nature, and many anthologies. Sawyer has won the Nebula Award (1995), the Hugo Award (2003), and the John W. Campbell Memorial Award (2006).
Sawyer was born in Ottawa, Ontario 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 (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" (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, 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. 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.
Sawyer contributed a story called "The Hand You're Dealt" to the Libertarian SF anthology Free Space, and another called "The Right's Tough" to the Libertarian SF anthology Visions of Liberty).
Sawyer's prose has been described by Orson Scott Card as near Isaac Asimovian in its clarity.
Sawyer has 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." 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 science-fiction imprint for Red Deer Press, part of Canadian publisher Fitzhenry & Whiteside; 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.
Sawyer continues to use a customized version of WordStar for DOS to write his novels.
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. After some adjustments, the first season was set to consist of 22 episodes. Sawyer is story consultant on each episode of the series and wrote the 19th episode, titled "Course Correction".
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. He provided analysis of the British science fiction series Doctor Who for the CBC's online documentary The Planet of the Doctor, 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). 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, following on the Region of Waterloo's choice of Sawyer's Hominids as the "One Book, One Community" 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.
Sawyer is a frequent keynote speaker about technology topics, and has served as a consultant to Canada's Federal Department of Justice on the shape that future genetics laws should take.
Influence and recognition
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 was awarded an Honorary Doctor of Letters from Laurentian University in 2007 and an Honorary Doctor of Laws from the University of Winnipeg in 2014.
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.
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 (for which he has served on the membership committee), and he is a member of scriptwriting unions Writers Guild of America and Writers Guild of Canada.