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Writing The Terminal Experiment
by Robert J. Sawyer
Copyright © 1996 by Robert J. Sawyer
All Rights Reserved.
Each year, the Spring issue of the SFWA Bulletin features
essays from the current Nebula Award finalists about their
nominated works. Here's my essay from the Spring 1996 Bulletin
about my novel The Terminal Experiment, which
in Analog as Hobson's Choice:
Robert J. Sawyer founded the Canadian Region of SFWA, and served
on SFWA's Board of Directors from 1992 to 1995. He has won five
Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy Awards ("Auroras"), three
HOMer Awards from the CompuServe SF&F Literature Forum, and an
Arthur Ellis Award from the Crime Writers of Canada. His seventh
novel, Starplex, will
be serialized in Analog beginning with
the July 1996 issue; the book version will follow in October from
Two of my favorite SF short stories are Arthur C. Clarke's "The
Nine Billion Names of God" and "The Star." Each asserts as real
an aspect of religion normally taken on faith, and then examines
the repercussions of that reality. Not many novels have done the
same thing successfully, and so my goal in creating
The Terminal Experiment which begins with a man discovering scientific
proof for the existence of the human soul was to write such a
(I had other goals, too: as a long-time booster of Canadian science fiction,
I wanted to write a novel that takes place entirely in Canada.
Canadian writers are constantly told not to set material in our
own country if we wish it to sell internationally; I wanted to
help disprove that. So far, The Terminal Experiment has sold
not just to HarperPrism USA, but also to New English Library in
the UK, Editrice Nord in Italy, and AST in Russia. Needless to
say, I'm delighted.)
I believe science fiction is at its best not when it's making
predictions, and not even when it's sounding warning bells, but
rather when it is giving us unique insights into what it means to
be human, examining the human condition in ways that mainstream
fiction simply can't. That's why Frederik Pohl's Gateway is
my favorite SF novel: it looks at guilt under temporal
circumstances that no one has yet experienced and yet Fred's
portrayal rings true. Well, The Terminal Experiment is my own
attempt at uniquely science-fictional insights: an exercise in
determining what a human mind might be like if it were aware
either that it would live forever or that it was already dead.
(The Hobson's Choice of the serial title is the choice between
immortality or a scientifically verified life after death.)
After spending a couple of years writing my Quintaglio trilogy,
which has no humans in it at all, I also wanted to produce a work
in which every twist and turn of the plot was driven solely by
all-too-human psychology. That Stan Schmidt liked the finished
product enough to serialize it in Analog means more to me than
I can say. I'm also very grateful that John Silbersack and
Christopher Schelling at HarperPrism put the book out as a classy
mainstream package. My profound thanks to them and to
everyone who nominated The Terminal Experiment.
More Good Reading
More about The Terminal Experiment
Robert J. Sawyer's essay on winning the Nebula Award
Writing The Quintaglio Ascension trilogy
Writing Illegal Alien
Writing Calculating God
Writing "Lost in the Mail"
Writing "You See But You Do Not Observe"
Writing "The Shoulders of Giants"