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Robert J. Sawyer, Mensch
by Michael A. Burstein
Copyright © 1998 by Michael A. Burstein
All Rights Reserved.
From the Program Book for Bubonicon 30, a science-fiction
convention at which Robert J. Sawyer was Guest of Honor,
held August 28-30, 1998, in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
I first heard of Robert J. Sawyer in 1991. I was spending
the summer teaching in upstate New York, and I was desperate for
some good science fiction to read. The owner of a local science
fiction specialty store, after hearing that I liked the works of
Isaac Asimov, pushed a copy of
Golden Fleece at me. I had never
heard of the author before, but the blurb looked interested, so
I bought the book and took it with me.
I devoured it that night. Generation ships, artificial intelligences,
alien messages this book was filled
with all the trappings of wonder that are the hallmark of great science
fiction. I resolved to read every other book this author wrote,
and was crushingly disappointed when I discovered this was his
first novel. I was just going to have to wait.
Next summer, I returned to that bookstore, and the owner remembered me.
She pointed out the new novel by Rob Sawyer. I took one look at it
There was a dinosaur on the cover.
Not only that, but it was the first book of a trilogy, all
with dinosaurs on the cover! Robert Sawyer had made a terrible
mistake, especially if he wanted to keep me as a reader. Going
against the tide, I never had much interest in dinosaurs, so I
passed up his latest novel.
Rob, I apologize. It was actually my mistake, not his.
How was I to know that the novels were about an alien world
where intelligent dinosaurs had evolved, and the trilogy was
about their three greatest thinkers, corresponding to Galileo,
Darwin, and Freud? When I finally did read them, I found them
as delightful and thought-provoking as Rob's first novel. But
I'm getting ahead of myself.
Cut to 1994. I've gotten to know Rob a tiny bit as a
person on the Genie network, and as it is so happens, he will be
present at Contradiction, a convention held in Niagara Falls.
Normally I would never have gone the distance to attend, but
naturally I couldn't pass up the chance to meet Rob. (Well,
actually, I went to meet an editor to whom I was trying to sell
a story, but let's not remind Rob of that.)
I went to his reading, and introduced myself. I swear that
his face lit up immediately with recognition, and he greeted me
very warmly. He got even more friendly when I told him that I
got no sleep on my overnight train, as I spent the entire time
reading his latest novel, End of an Era.
Although I didn't hang out with Rob as much I might have
during that convention, I did spend enough time with him to see
that Rob was not only a terrific writer, but also one of the
nicest, most decent of the people in the field. And, of course,
it didn't hurt that we hung out in the con suite for a while,
singing Gilbert & Sullivan.
In the summer of 1995 I got married, and my wife Nomi and I
had to choose a location for a honeymoon. When we decided upon
Toronto, I said, "Cool! Maybe we can hook up with Rob and
Carolyn for a day." To which Nomi
replied, "Who's Rob?"
Rob and Carolyn offered us a tremendous amount of hospitality.
They took us out to dinner, and Rob let me wander around his
home office and drool.
Before we left, Rob asked if we would do him the favor of
going over his manuscript of
Frameshift, and checking it for
correctness of details on Judaism. The funny thing is that
since then, Rob has asked me a few more times if I would be
willing to go over one of his manuscripts in advance, and he is
always hesitant and shy about intruding on my time. I keep
having to explain to him that asking me to read his novels in
advance is like asking me if I would mind having a free block of
Anyway, I think Nomi and I can safely say that one of the
most memorable days of our honeymoon was the one we spent in our
hotel room, reading Frameshift from beginning to end. (Stop
Robert Sawyer is not only one of the most interesting and
intelligent writers out there, but he is also one of the nicest
and friendliest. If you're lucky enough to be at a convention
where he's present, do yourself a favor and say hello. And if
you haven't done it yet, go out and read one of his books, like
The Terminal Experiment
(Nebula winner) or
(Hugo nominee). If you don't like the
book, I'll buy it off of you for my own collection.
Michael A. Burstein won the John W. Campbell Award for Best
New Writer of 1997; he was also a Hugo nominee for his first published
story, "Teleabsence." Michael's work appears frequently in Analog,
and he is Secretary of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America.
More Good Reading
Michael A. Burstein Web Site
My short review of Michael's short story collection
Other convention book tributes:
Other interviews with Rob
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