Saturday, May 6, 2006

"Identity Theft" Nebula Award essay

Today's the day that the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America are giving out the Nebula Awards, and my "Identity Theft" is a finalist in the best-novella category.

All the nominees were invited to submit short essays about their stories and brief biographies, which will appear in the issue of the SFWA Bulletin that is being given out to attendees of the Nebula banquet tonight. Here's what I had to say:


There's a tendency in our industry to pooh-pooh theme anthologies. Somehow, the notion of writing a story to order strikes people as inherently wrong, and the idea that a story might be commissioned, as opposed to written on spec, seems outrageous to some. I disagree. For me, many of the greatest challenges I've faced as a writer came from anthology commissions, and they've resulted in me successfully going in directions I simply never would have otherwise.

When I sit down to do a new novel contract, my publisher is, quite rightly, looking for me to propose something that plays to my strengths and builds on my existing audience (and all those who complain about commissioned stories never seem to discuss novel commissions, the engine that drives our industry -- but I digress). But when a short-fiction editor approaches me for a theme anthology, very often it's in an area that is new to me, and those commissions have inspired me to produce some of the work I'm most proud of.

Ed Kramer asked me to do libertarian SF a few years ago -- me, the bleeding-heart big-government Canadian liberal -- and the result was the Hugo Award finalist "The Hand You're Dealt." Ed came to me later looking for horror -- me, the hard-SF quantum-computers-and-aliens guy -- and the result was the Bram Stoker Award finalist "Fallen Angel." My Hugo finalist last year, "Shed Skin," likewise was commissioned for an anthology, one that also contained work by such other hacks as Nalo Hopkinson and Cory Doctorow, produced in honor of Bakka, the SF bookstore we all used to work at.

And this year, "Identity Theft" isn't just a Nebula finalist, it's also a Hugo finalist and has already won the world's largest cash prize for SF writing, the 6,000-euro Premio UPC de Ciencia Ficción -- in blind judging, I might add. And yet, I never would have written it -- or even once thought about creating an SF hard-boiled-detective story -- if Mike Resnick hadn't come knocking. If it weren't for theme anthologies, and commissioned works, if it weren't for creative and versatile editors like Mike Resnick and Ed Kramer and Marty Greenberg and Julie E. Czerneda and John Helfers, and for publishers like DAW and now the Science Fiction Book Club that have vigorously supported the original-anthology market, quality stories like these by myself and dozens of other authors simply wouldn't exist. My hat is off to those editors and publishers, and I am honored and thrilled to be the first-ever Nebula nominee for an original Science Fiction Book Club publication.


Robert J. Sawyer is the author of 17 science-fiction novels including the Nebula Award winner The Terminal Experiment (serialized in Analog as Hobson's Choice), the Hugo Award winner Hominids, the Nebula and Hugo Award finalist Starplex, and the Seiun Award winners End of an Era, Frameshift, and Illegal Alien.

Three of his ten Hugo nominations and four of his nine Aurora Award wins have been for short fiction, and he's won the Crime Writers of Canada's Arthur Ellis Award, Analog magazine's Analytical Laboratory Award, and Science Fiction Chronicle's Reader Award, all for best short story of the year, as well as France's Le Grand Prix de l'Imaginaire for Best Foreign Short Story of the Year.

Rob's latest novel is Mindscan from Tor, and his next, Rollback, will be serialized in Analog starting in the October 2006 issue, with the hardcover to follow from Tor in April 2007. His novels have earned starred reviews in Booklist, Publishers Weekly, Kliatt, and Quill & Quire, have hit the top-ten national mainstream bestsellers' lists in Canada, and have reached number one on the Locus bestsellers' list. He runs an intensive week-long SF writing workshop in Banff, Alberta, each year, will be writer-in-residence at Odyssey this summer, and edits the Robert J. Sawyer Books imprint for Fitzhenry & Whiteside, one of Canada's leading publishers. His million-plus-word website is at


At May 06, 2006 6:23 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

My pal Rob already owes me a wildly-expensive calorie-laden dinner for winning the UPC contest (and beating my own novella in the process). If he wins the Nebula and the Hugo -- and he has my votes for each -- I want it on the record here that he owes me two more sumptuous meals.

-- Mike Resnick

At May 06, 2006 11:29 AM , Blogger RobertJSawyer said...

It'll be my pleasure, Mike! Of course, if I lose them both, you can pick up dessert after that dinner I owe you -- after all, your "Travels With My Cats" did beat my "Shed Skin" for last year's short-story Hugo! :)

At May 06, 2006 12:03 PM , Anonymous Simon Jessey said...

With the standard of work that you and Mike have been churning out recently, I can confidently predict you're going to find yourselves on the wrong side of 300 pounds if you're not careful. My old science teacher would've laughed if I'd told her there was a direct relationship between literary awards and calorie intake.

At May 08, 2006 12:19 AM , Blogger Ryan Oakley said...

People are angry at commisioned stories now? At themes?

That makes no sense. Creativity needs limits and goals or it becomes mush. There's no real difference between an editor and your brain asking for a story. Either way, you still have to write it - and writing it is the trick.

At October 14, 2006 1:50 PM , Blogger George said...

This is an excellent novella, by the way (somebody needs to say it!). Well-plotted, well-paced, and not a single unnecessary element. Very well done.


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