[Robert J. Sawyer] Science Fiction Writer
Hugo and Nebula Winner

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The Literary Career of Robert J. Sawyer

Copyright © 1988 by Robert J. Sawyer
All Rights Reserved

My first big break in the SF field came on August 7, 1987. Patrick Price, the editor of Amazing Stories, the world's oldest SF magazine, bought a novelette from me entitled "Golden Fleece" (after I'd made some revisions that Patrick himself had suggested). I later expanded that novelette into my first novel. The appearance of the shorter version in Amazing was what landed me my agent, and enabled my agent to quickly sell the book.

Patrick so liked the revised version that he decided to use it as the cover story (commissioning a wonderful painting to go with it from a then little-known artist named Bob Eggleton, now one of the top names in SF illustration). That was a big thing back then: Amazing was paying a flat fee of US$1,650 for their cover stories regardless of length — meaning I got more than three times what the story would have earned had it been place elsewhere in the magazine (or had it sold to one of the other SF digests). And, in addition, Amazing commissioned an autobiographical essay from the author whose story was being featured on the cover. Here's my essay, as it appeared in the September 1988 issue of Amazing Stories, a snapshot of my career near its beginning . . .

[Amazing Stories]

Current Directions . . .

At the time "Golden Fleece" takes place, JASON and the Argonauts have been on their way to the planet Colchis for five years. For them, that seems an impossibly long time. I know how they feel. It took me five years of off-and-on poking and prodding to finish their story.

In December 1982, Locus: The Newspaper of the Science Fiction Field announced a call for submissions for a DAW Books anthology called Habitats, a collection of stories dealing with the experience of living in places such as arcologies, terraformed worlds, and domed cities. Such ideas appealed to me — I'd already written about a domed Toronto in my story "Ours to Discover" — so I decided to try to come up with something for that book.

I've always liked playing with words, and the term starcology came to me almost at once. I guess I play with them too much, though. The April 30, 1983, deadline came and went with my story still unfinished. It didn't much matter. I was well over the 7500-word limit DAW had imposed.

April 30, 1983, was an important deadline for me in another way, though. It was the day I stopped working at a regular job and became a full-time freelance writer. I write magazine articles about high technology and business. I also wordsmith for corporations and governments. Neither is as satisfying as creating other worlds, but the money is an order of magnitude better. Besides, I'd always thought I'd have plenty of time for fiction. But my business has been booming lo this past semi-decade and somehow the years have slipped by with me only completing a handful of SF stories, with "Golden Fleece" by far the longest.

Writing science fiction seems a lot like making stew: you throw things into the pot and then let them simmer. For "Golden Fleece," the ingredients included an editorial by geneticist David Suzuki on why he believes Reagan's Star Wars won't work; an exhibition at the Royal Ontario Museum about the Titanic, from which I learned the sad story of Arthur Peuchen; a course I took in classical humanities; watching a re-run of The Ten Commandments on the tube; and a job I once did preparing a chapter on special relativity for a high-school physics text.

I'm trying to clear more of my schedule for SF writing. My current project is a time-travel novella with the working title "End of an Era." It concerns dinosaurs — if I hadn't ended up a writer, I would have become a paleontologist. Of course, I've been poking at it since the summer of 1980 . . . If it's received well, I'll expand it into a novel.

My wife and best friend, Carolyn Clink, has been my chief critic and inspiration. Others have read my works-in-progress, too. For "Golden Fleece," I'd particularly like to thank physicist Ariel Reich for reviewing the science and SF writers Algis Budrys and Terence M. Green for their comments on the fiction.

In five more years, Starcology Argo will arrive at the promised land. I wonder where I will be?

. . . and Past Achievements


  • Motive, one-third of the Futurescapes trilogy, a dramatic starshow produced by the Strasenburgh Planetarium, Rochester, NY, performed 192 times in the summer of 1980.

  • "If I'm Here, Imagine Where They Sent My Luggage," in The Village Voice, January 14, 1981. Reprinted as a "Bon Voyage" card by Story Cards, Washington D.C., 1987.

  • "Ours to Discover," in Leisure Ways, November 1982.

  • "The Contest" in 100 Great Fantasy Short Short Stories, edited by Isaac Asimov, Terry Carr, and Martin Harry Greenberg, Doubleday hardcover 1984, Avon paperback, 1985.

  • "Uphill Climb" in Amazing Stories, March 1987.

  • "The Good Doctor" in Amazing Stories, forthcoming.

Selected Critical Works

More Good Reading

Other profiles of Rob
Rob's 1995 Year-in-Review
Rob's 1996 Year-in-Review
Rob's 1997 Year-in-Review
Rob's 1998 Year-in-Review

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Copyright © 1995-2020 by Robert J. Sawyer.