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Reuter World Report
Wednesday, August 14 1996 at 09:05EDT
Sci-fi writer wins awards
with focus on human soul
This article ran in newspapers all over the world including
The West Australian for August 21, 1996.
TORONTO, Aug 13, 1996 (Reuter) With alien invasion film
shattering box office records and TV networks scrambling to imitate
The X-Files, you might expect the top sci-fi novel of 1996 to be
a sweeping tale of extraterrestrials or government coverups of UFO landings.
But the book sweeping this year's top science fiction awards is about a
Toronto engineer in a bad marriage who stumbles across scientific proof of the
human soul. Hard to believe? Some days Robert J. Sawyer, who wrote the
The Terminal Experiment,
has trouble believing it himself. "I always wanted to be a science fiction
writer but I never thought I could make a living at it," the bearded writer
said. "The prize has changed my life in all kinds of ways."
Sales of The Terminal Experiment have skyrocketed since it won the
the world's top award for a work of science fiction. A movie deal is in
the works and the book is being translated into five languages. Often described
as the Academy Award of science fiction, the Nebula is voted on by members of
the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. Sawyer is in good company
as past winners include
Isaac Asimov, Frank Herbert and
Arthur C. Clarke.
But unlike most science fiction stories, Sawyer's book contains no aliens,
spaceships or adventures on distant planets. It is set just 15 years from now
and tells the story of a death-obsessed engineer who finds scientific proof
that the human soul exists.
Critics said it was the book's focus on character and the complicated
ethical issues that arise from new technology that helped it win both the
Nebula in April and the
Aurora, Canada's top prize for science fiction, in
July. Sawyer's book set itself apart by "dealing with real people it's not
dealing with cardboard cutouts the way much of science fiction does," said
Michael Capobianco, president of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of
At the core of the The Terminal Experiment is a story of a marriage in
trouble, and people responded positively to that, Sawyer said. The award is
especially satisfying for him because he was originally encouraged by editors
to remove some of the more controversial parts of the book.
Sawyer's previous novels were set on different planets with aliens as main
characters and the publisher of those novels was uncomfortable with the
discussion in The Terminal Experiment of the human soul and abortion.
Rather than change the book, Sawyer changed publishers.
"I had some very strong feelings about the vision of this book. This one
meant an enormous amount to me and I wanted to do it my way," Sawyer said. His
gamble paid off. Publishers tell him the book will likely never go out of
print. Japanese, Polish, Russian, German and Italian language rights have been
sold and a British film producer has optioned the movie rights.
In the first three months the book sold more than 50,000 copies in English
and orders flooded in after the award was announced, said Sawyer, the first
native-born Canadian to win the award. U.S.-born William Gibson, who lives in
Vancouver, British Columbia, won in 1984 for his novel Neuromancer
and went on to become one of science-fiction's most popular authors, coining
the term cyberspace and helping to found the "cyberpunk" movement in
Sawyer, who considers Gibson one of the best stylists writing science
fiction, said he does not expect his novel to have the impact or popularity of
Neuromancer. "That one novel was enough to secure his claim to fame,"
Sawyer said. "My novel did not start a movement like Gibson's did."
However, The Terminal Experiment is raising the profile of
Canadian science fiction, which is often
overshadowed by its U.S. counterpart. Many
Canadian science fiction writers rarely set their stories in Canada or make
them distinctly Canadian.
"It will give credibility to writers that are working up here," said
Rick Green, who hosted
Prisoners of Gravity, a television program
about science-fiction that ran for five seasons in Canada.
More Good Reading
Canadian Press wire-service story about Robert J. Sawyer
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