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Rob's Blog: October to December 2000
25 December 2000
For those who might be interested, a list of my science fiction
published for the first time in 2000:
Sawyer, Robert J. Calculating God. Tor Books,
New York, June 2000.
Sawyer, Robert J. "The Abdication of Pope Mary
III." In Nature: International Weekly Journal of
Science, July 6, 2000.
Sawyer, Robert J. "Fallen Angel." In Strange
Attraction, edited by Edward E. Kramer,
ShadowLands Press, Centreville, Virginia, August
Sawyer, Robert J. "Iterations." The lead story in
TransVersions: An Anthology of New Fantastic
Literature, edited by Marcel Gagne and Sally
Tomasevic, Paper Orchid Press, November 2000.
Sawyer, Robert J. "Last But Not Least." In Be
Afraid!: Tales of Horror, edited by Edo van
Belkom, Tundra Books, Toronto, September 2000.
Sawyer, Robert J. "The Shoulders of Giants." The
lead story in Star Colonies edited by Martin H.
Greenberg and John Helfers, DAW Books, New York,
Sawyer, Robert J. "Star Light, Star Bright." In
Far Frontiers, edited by Martin H. Greenberg and
Larry Segriff, DAW Books, New York, September 2000.
Sawyer, Robert J. "Wiping Out." In Guardsmen of
Tomorrow, edited by Martin H. Greenberg and Larry
Segriff, DAW Books, New York, November 2000.
17 December 2000
Carolyn and I do one of those annoying Christmas letters that
some people tuck in with their Christmas cards. I thought I'd
share the text of our year-2000 one here, for anyone who might
be interested ...
In September, our long search for a new home ended. We bought a
2,200-square-foot penthouse condominium in downtown Mississauga
(a city of 570,000 that abuts the west border of Toronto). We
moved there in November, and are very, very happy.
The year 2000 began on a high note for us, with Discovery Channel
Canada airing Inventing the Future: 2000 Years of Discovery, a
two-hour documentary co-hosted by Rob. And on January 7, Rob
had the chance to address the sales conference for H. B. Fenn and
Company, the Canadian distributor of Tor Books, at the White
Oaks Conference Centre and Spa, near St. Catharines, Ontario.
Carolyn and Rob left directly from the sales conference for a
25-day writing retreat at Rob's father's vacation home on
Canandaigua Lake in upstate New York. On January 27, Carolyn and
Rob were treated to a fabulous dinner by the staff and gifted
students of Canandaigua Middle School, where Rob's books are very
In March, we spent eleven days in Florida, staying with friend
Mary Stanton in West Palm Beach and attending the International
Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts.
On April 1, Rob began a three-month stint as Writer-in-Residence
at the Richmond Hill (Ontario) Public Library. He spent 14 hours
a week helping beginning writers.
In April, we went to Philadelphia for the annual meeting of the
Paleoanthropology Society; Rob is currently writing a trilogy
about Neandertals for Tor. Later in April, Rob taught
science-fiction writing for a week at the Banff Centre for the
Arts in Alberta, and Carolyn spent time working on her poetry
back in Toronto.
This was a big year for Rob at mainstream writing festivals: he
read at the Blue Metropolis Literary Festival in Montreal; the
Sunshine Coast Festival of the Written Arts in Sechelt, B.C.; and
the Ottawa International Writers Festival. And he was keynote
speaker at the North Country Writers' Festival in Watertown, New
York; the Writers Circle of Durham Region annual general meeting
in Oshawa, Ontario; Authors in August in Collingwood, Ontario;
and the Writers Guild of Alberta annual conference in Edmonton.
Rob was also keynote speaker at the National Life Group Brokers
conference in May and at S/SF: The First Canadian Conference on
Science and Science Fiction, held at the National Research
Council of Canada in Ottawa during September.
In May, Carolyn was Poet Guest of Honour and Rob was Author Guest
of Honour at V-Con 25, a science-fiction convention in Vancouver,
On April 29, Rob celebrated the big four-oh. Special guests at
the party included friends Nick DiChario and Dave Smith, who
drove up from Rochester, New York, for the event.
In June, friend Asbed Bedrossian came for a visit from L.A. On
June 26, Rob was a guest on CNBC's Rivera Live with Geraldo
Rivera, talking about the future of genetics. The highlight of
the month, though, was a two-hour dinner Carolyn and Rob had with
Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin while he was in Toronto (Rob and
Buzz have the same publisher).
At the end of June, Rob's residency in Richmond Hill concluded
with a gala launch party for his twelfth novel, Calculating God.
Carolyn and Rob did a two-week by-car book tour promoting the novel,
going throughout Ontario, Quebec, New York, Massachusetts, and New
Rob did more touring in Vancouver and Victoria in August (where
he caught up with junior-high-school friend Gary Mackenzie and
his Grade-11 physics teacher, George Laundry).
Calculating God was a national mainstream bestseller in Canada,
appearing on the bestsellers lists in both Maclean's: Canada's
Weekly Newsmagazine and The Globe and Mail: Canada's National
For the second year in a row, Rob spent the Canada Day long
weekend teaching at the University of Toronto's Taddle Creek
In July, Rob pulled off a rare double win in the Canadian Science
Fiction and Fantasy Awards ("the Auroras"), taking home the
trophies for best English novel of the year (for FlashForward)
and best English short story of the year (for "Stream of
Rob had a short story reprinted in this year's edition of the
annual Year's Best SF, and had new stories in the July 6 edition
of Nature: International Weekly Journal of Science, and in the
anthologies Be Afraid!, Northern Horror, Strange Attraction, Far
Frontiers, and Guardsmen of Tomorrow, plus the lead stories in
Star Colonies (alongside new work by friends Edo van Belkom and
Robert Charles Wilson) and TransVersions.
Speaking of Bob Wilson, on August 27, Carolyn and Rob attended
the wedding of Bob to Sharry Walderman; Bob is a major
science-fiction writer, and the wedding was held, appropriately
enough, at Toronto's Sci-Fi Café.
Carolyn and Rob attended the World Science Fiction Convention in
Chicago over Labour Day weekend. The highlight of that trip was
getting a private tour of the home of John Lazendorf, who owns
the world's largest collection of dinosaur art; thanks to friends
Michael and Kim Brett-Surman for arranging the tour.
In September, Carolyn and Rob, and Rob's brother Alan and his
wife Kim, went to see plays at the Stratford Festival in Ontario.
Carolyn and Kim saw a wonderful production of The Importance of
Being Earnest. Alan and Rob saw an equally terrific production
of Fiddler on the Roof.
In October, Australian SF writer Stephen Dedman visited us, and
we all went to Montreal for a wonderful weekend with Terence M.
Green and his wife Merle Casci, and Rob's editor David G.
Hartwell and his wife Kathryn Cramer and young son Peter.
On September 27, Junction Press launched Carolyn's poetry
chapbook Changing Planes at the University of Toronto's Hart
House. Carolyn and her brother David
continue to attend the Algonquin Square Table poetry workshop every
other Sunday afternoon; their workshop leader, Al Moritz, was nominated for
the Governor General's Award this year.
In November, the anthology TransVersions was launched with a
great event at the Sci-Fi Café; Carolyn and Phyllis Gotlieb were
the poetry editors for the book, and good friends Marcel Gagné
and Sally Tomasevic were the fiction editors and publishers.
Carolyn had two new poems published this year in Tales of the
From October 30 until November 14, Carolyn and Rob were in Japan;
it was one of the best trips we've ever taken. The first
weekend, Rob was keynote speaker at Contact Japan 4, a conference
about first contact with extraterrestrials. The second weekend
he was Guest of Honour at the Kyoto Science Fiction Festival. In
between, we toured around and saw the magnificent sights. We
also had meetings with Canada's ambassador to Japan and the
president of Nortel Japan, both of whom are big fans of Rob's
On December 4 and 5, we went to Sudbury, Ontario, staying with
friends Chris and Donna Krejlgaard. We visited the Sudbury
Neutrino Observatory, located 2 km underground in a nickel
mine; part of Rob's next book is set there.
In December, Rob was in Los Angeles for three days, pitching a TV
project with William Shatner hopefully, there'll be more to
say about that in next year's Christmas letter.
On December 23, Carolyn and Rob are hosting a 25th-anniversary
reunion party for our high-school science-fiction club, the
Northview Association for Science Fiction Addicts (NASFA), which
is where we met. We're also hosting the Sawyer Christmas family
get-together this year.
Best wishes for the real beginning of the New Millennium!
10 December 2000
Today, Peter Halasz, Sally Tomasevic, Marcel Gagne, Carolyn
Clink, and I (Robert J. Sawyer) went to see the dark-comedy play
called Science Fiction at the Factory Studio Theatre in downtown
It was fabulous. We all loved it. Playwright David Widdicombe
has done a terrific job of capturing a down-on-his-luck
science-fiction writer. I saw gentle echoes of Barry Malzberg's
Herovit's World in this production; Peter Halasz remarked on
similarities to the life of Philip K. Dick.
This is a fully professional production, with a truly great cast.
Hardee T. Lineham brilliantly plays the central character, an SF
novelist whom you will immediately recognize as an amalgam of
any number of bitter old SF pros who you've met at
science-fiction conventions. The rest of the cast David Fox,
Kristina Nicoll, and Dylan Roberts are equally good; indeed,
this is a terrific ensemble piece. The director, Ted Dykstra,
does a first-rate job, as well.
The script, I thought, was bang on: the dialogue crackles, there
were many belly-laughs to be had, and playwright Widdicombe
obviously knows his science fiction. Although the play is billed
as a comedy (and it is indeed very funny), this is also a complex
psychological portrait of the mind of a completely believable
science-fiction writer, and the dichotomies that swirl around SF
writers' lives. I recommend it wholeheartedly.
But the play only has one week left in its run. I highly
encourage everyone in the Toronto SF community to go see it; I
can't imagine anyone who loves writing and written SF being
disappointed by it.
Tickets are $18 (at least at the performance we went to); for
bookings and showtimes call
Here's a press release about the play:
"In a seedy hotel room deep on one of the most
decrepit areas of the big city there is a solitary
man. He's in a drunken stupor. He's disillusioned.
And his dog has just died. And later tonight he's
going to be asked to save the universe. Whether he
wants to or not..."
SCIENCE FICTION: THE PLAY
A new dark comedy by award-winning playwright DAVID
Come watch as director overlord TED DYKSTRA pits
four incredible actors against each other in the
arena that it is SCIENCE FICTION. It's Amazing!
It's Hysterical! It's in 3-D!
Now playing at the FACTORY STUDIO THEATRE. 125
Bathurst Street (at Adelaide) in Toronto. For
Tickets Phone the Box Office at 504-9971.
Starring DAVID FOX, HARDEE T. LINEHAM, KRISTINA
NICOLL and DYLAN ROBERTS.
Now playing until December 17th Only. Book Tickets
early to avoid disappointment!
"The most entertaining play since the Drawer
Boy...a gloriously acted production!" THE NATIONAL
"A spacy black comedy...fast-moving, delightfully
improbable and filled with wonderfully wacky
characters...SCIENCE FICTION sure puts on a good
show!" THE GLOBE & MAIL
6 December 2000
I was pleased to note today, while browsing in a Chapters store,
that my Calculating God is now in a THIRD hardcover printing, and
that my The Terminal Experiment has just gone into a sixth
paperback printing. Nice to know these books have legs ...
25 November 2000
The move is over, and it went very well indeed; nothing got
broken <grin>. We're now in the process of unpacking, which will
continue for at least the next week. Carolyn and I are both
absolutely thrilled with the new place, and are very much looking
forward to having everything set up the way we want it. (First
priority was setting up my office, so I could get back to work; I
must say I'm delighted with it: it's large, has fabulous views
through floor-to-ceiling windows, and is very comfortable.)
I apologize for not having yet posted my report on Carolyn and my
trip to Japan. It was absolutely fabulous even better, I
think than our trip to Australia last year but, sad to say, I
picked up food poisoning there: lab tests show I've got
campylobacterosis, a relative of salmonella, which results in
diarrhea (gak!), abdominal cramps (oof!), and fever (ugh); it's
caused by eating raw meat or unpasteurized milk contaminated with
Campylobacter jejuni, a bacterium that infects poultry, cattle,
I've had it since November 9, and my doctor says it will take
another week or so to run its course; fortunately, though, I'm
only suffering from the first of the three symptoms listed
above now, and even that's getting much better. Interestingly,
all medical labs in Ontario are under a compulsory directive
to notify the local Public Health Office about cases of
campylobacterosis, on the assumption that the patient caught it
at a local restaurant that needs to be cited.
Anyway, the infection, being swamped with final revisions to the
animated series pilot I've been writing, and suddenly having to
prepare for two unexpected trips in the next couple of weeks, has
put me behind schedule but I will get the Japan diary up soon.
The first trip is to Sudbury, Ontario, to tour the Sudbury
Neutrino Observatory, where the first chapter of the novel I'm
currently writing takes place. SNO is the world's largest
neutrino detector, located 2 km underground in a nickel mine; it
should be fascinating to visit. I've been wanting to go there
for some time, but it took a while to get the appropriate
The second trip is to Los Angeles. I'll write more about that
later ... <grin>.
Today, we're taking most of the day off. This afternoon is the
book launch for the TransVersions anthology, edited by Marcel
Gagne and Sally Tomasevic, with my new short story "Iterations"
as the lead piece. And this evening, the Toronto in 2003 bid
committee is throwing a bash down at the Royal York Hotel
(principal hotel for the 2003 Worldcon) to celebrate winning the
bid to bring the World Science Fiction Convention to Toronto in
three years' time. Should be fun!
14 November 2000
OUR TRIP TO JAPAN
This 6,200-word entry, the last one in this file, covers our
trip to Japan. You can skip it and jump directly to the next
diary file, covering earlier events, if you like.
Carolyn and I are back home safe and sound from our 16-day trip
to Japan. We had an absolutely wonderful time.
We had a nonstop flight from Toronto to Tokyo, which took 14
hours (and had us cross the International Date Line, so although
we left shortly after noon on Monday, October 30, we arrived in
Tokyo mid-afternoon on Tuesday, October 31, 2000, which in North
America is Halloween, a holiday not celebrated in Japan).
The flight was very pleasant; we were in an emergency-exit row
(something I always request when flying), so we had lots of extra
We took an express train from Narita airport to Shinjuku, the
heart of modern Tokyo. On the way, we chatted with a Japanese
man whose English name was Spike; his spoken English was
flawless, but, as he told us, that is highly unusual. In school,
Japanese students learn to read and write English, but speaking
it is not part of the curriculum.
We had booked ourselves into the Sun Lite Shinjuku hotel, which
was nice and well located, although our room was very small.
This was Carolyn and my first time in Japan, and I had expected
it to be a more disorienting experience. Yes, almost all the
signs were in Japanese, but, except for that, Tokyo at first
didn't seem really all that much different from any large city in
North America or Western Europe. I'd also been prepared for
crushing crowds and gridlock on the roads, but in fact downtown
Toronto traffic is worse than that in Tokyo, and I never felt
overwhelmed by the number of people around me, the way I
sometimes do in Manhattan.
Neither Carolyn nor I had slept much on the plane. The flight
had been only half full, so we had actually been able to move from
our coveted emergency-exit seats to lay down across four chairs
(whose armrests swung up out of the way) in the centre section of
the cabin. Carolyn and I alternated laying down. Nonetheless,
we were exhausted, and on our first night in Japan, we just spent
ninety minutes or so walking around Shinjuku, then went to bed.
On Wednesday, November 1, we spent the morning exploring Shinjuku
on foot; the business district looked exactly like any business
district in North America, with skyscrapers and people in Western
business attire scurrying around. We spent some time in the
lovely Shinjuku Gyoen, a large, very beautiful park. Sadly, it
was raining, which made walking around less pleasant than it
should have been. We spent a fair bit of time in the greenhouse
at the park, but did manage to see some of the wonderful outdoor
chrysanthemum display that they only have in November.
Wednesday afternoon at 3:00 p.m., we were met in our hotel lobby
by Yoshihiro Shiozawa, the chief editor of Hayakawa SF Magazine,
Japan's leading SF periodical. He took us to the Hayakawa
Publishing offices, which looked very similar to U.S. publishing
offices, in that they were crowded, and desks were piled high
with manuscripts and other papers. But there were no room
dividers in the office, and the boss, Hiroshi Hayakawa a true
gentleman with impeccable manners who spoke perfect English
had his desk in the same room as everyone else, which apparently
is the Japanese norm; the only difference was that his desk was
clean and uncluttered.
At the Hayakawa offices, I was interviewed at length by Nozomi
Ohmori; the interview will appear in the March issue of
Hayakawa SF Magazine, which will also include a brand new
8,000-word novelette by me, specially commissioned by Hayakawa SF
Magazine, and having its first world publication being its
After the interview, Hayakawa Publishing Company held a wonderful
welcoming party for Carolyn and me. Perhaps 40 people were in
attendance, including SF editors, writers, translators,
reviewers, and major figures from Japanese fandom. (Mr. and Mrs.
Shibano, well-known to Worldcon attendees for the Seiun Award
presentation during the Hugo ceremonies, were there.)
At this party, I got to meet my wonderful Japanese translator,
Masayuki Uchida, for the first time. We have been E-mail friends
for years (he has translated all of my novels and short stories
that have been published in Japanese, and obviously does a
fabulous job, since we together won the Seiun Award for End of an
Era, and were nominated for the Seiun for Golden Fleece,
Far-Seer, The Terminal Experiment, and Starplex, as well as my
short story, "You See But You Do Not Observe"). I recognized him
at once from a photo someone had shown me at the Chicago
Worldcon, and we had a great time chatting; Masayuki is currently
finishing the translation of FlashForward, which Hayakawa
Publishing will release in January 2001.
The food at the party consisted of a wonderful buffet; I confess
to having been nervous about what I would eat in Japan, not being
much on raw fish or other seafood, but I always found something I
enjoyed eating. I had heard that Japanese portions tend to be
smaller than North American ones, but that really wasn't true
very often, and I frequently felt stuffed after my meals.
After the Hayakawa party, we were taken out for a traditional
Japanese dinner (I hadn't really understood that this was going
to happen, so I'm afraid I'd eaten too much at the party, and
didn't really have much room left). We talked with many fine
people at the party. When they noticed that we were starting
to tire from jetlag, so we were escorted home by a Hayakawa
Carolyn and I slept very well Wednesday night. On Thursday, we
took a one-day sightseeing tour of Tokyo. Sadly, it was raining
for much of this day as well, but the tour turned out to be
excellent nonetheless. We went up to the observation deck in the
Tokyo Tower (we did not see Mt. Fuji; it would have been visible
had it been clear); had a traditional Japanese tea ceremony at
the Happoen-Garden; had an absolutely amazing barbecue lunch at
the Chinzanso Garden Restaurant where the food was prepared at
our table by a cook working on a superheated slab of basaltic
rock; took a cruise up the Sumida River, going under the seven
Tokyo bridges; and visited the Nakamise Shopping Arcade a
traditional Japanese shopping mall, consisting of hundreds of
tiny stalls and boutiques, outdoors but with an awning over the
street they lined. The arcade was in front of the Asakusa Kannon
Temple, a very large and beautiful Buddhist temple.
At 7:00 p.m. we were met at our hotel by my good friend Masamichi
Osako, one of the organizers of Contact JAPAN 4, the conference
that had brought me to Tokyo, and by Ryuichi Kaneko, a freelance
science writer specializing in vertebrate paleontology. Ryuichi
is a Tokyo resident and a gourmet; he chose an excellent
restaurant for us to have dinner at (Masamichi lives in Osaka,
and so was also guided by Ryuichi's recommendation). We ate
yakatori, which is meat on skewers. At both yesterday's party
and today's dinner, my Japanese hosts were surprised to find that
I did not drink alcohol, but they accommodated me with little
bottles of Coca Cola. Carolyn and I had practiced a bit with
chopsticks in Toronto, but I still wasn't very good with them,
and broke down and asked for a fork. We had a wonderful evening
out, after which our friends returned us to our hotel in
On Friday morning, November 3, Masamichi and Ryuichi met us again
at our hotel, and escorted us to Contact JAPAN 4. We walked with
our luggage to an entrance to Tokyo's vast underground complex of
tunnels and shops, and made our way through there to the Shinjuku
train station. (Since Carolyn and I are moving to a new home
late in November, I had hit upon the idea of taking to Japan only
clothes that we didn't really want anymore, so after wearing them
we could simply discard them; we'd done the first purge that
morning, lightening our luggage somewhat.)
It took an hour by train to get to the ITI Training Center, which
was being used for Contact JAPAN 4; it was located south of
Tokyo. The conference centre was large and modern, and Contact
JAPAN 4 had rented the entire facility.
Contact JAPAN, held every second year, is a spin-off from the
American Contact seminars, devoted to discussing and simulating
first contact between humans and extraterrestrials. The 80
participants are divided into six teams, three teams of humans
and three teams of aliens (Carolyn and I were assigned to one of
the alien teams).
Each human team is paired with a specific alien team and they
retreat to adjacent conference rooms. In advance of the
conference, I had prepared a first-contact scenario, involving a
starship that had arrived at Sol's Oort cloud and was sending
messages to Earth not by radio, but rather by pulsing their
fusion engines on and off, producing bright flashes of light. I
established a protocol for messages: each was to be 1,817 bits
long; 1,817 is the product of the prime numbers 23 and 79, so
that if the bits were arranged in 23 rows of 79 columns, they
would form pictures.
I had devised the first four messages to be transmitted by each
team of aliens, and they conveyed them to their corresponding
teams of humans. Although I had established that the aliens
called themselves Hissst (singular) or aHissst (plural), the
humans came up with their own name for us. Since the first
message we sent showed a picture of our physical form (evolved
from jawless fish, with arms sticking out of the sides of the
head, two legs, and a broad, flat beaver-like tail), the humans
dubbed us "tailiens," being a combination of "tail" and "aliens;"
I discovered that the Japanese relish puns and word play in both
English and their own language (which has a great many homonyms,
making puns particularly easy to produce).
We continued with the simulation for the first afternoon, then
broke at 5:00 p.m. for dinner. All six groups humans and
aliens came together to eat, but the rule was that no
discussion could be made about the simulations.
After the dinner, Carolyn and I went to a charming room party,
with much laughter, and much drinking (Coca Cola again for me,
but mostly beer for the others). The party was held in a
traditional Japanese guest room, whose floors were covered with
tatami (woven straw) mats, and we sat on cushions.
At around 8:00 p.m., I went off with the men for a traditional
communal Japanese bath (I was told that Poul Anderson, the Guest
of Honor at Contact JAPAN 3, two years earlier, had declined to
participate). I felt somewhat self-conscious, not because of the
nudity per se, but because although I'm not particularly hairy by
North American standards, I was downright simian in comparison to
the sleek Japanese around me; also, of course, the Japanese diet
is very healthy, and none of them had an ounce of fat on them.
Still, the bath was very pleasant and very relaxing. There were
two large pools, adjacent to each other, but separated by a
narrow divider; the first was the hot pool, and the second was
the very hot pool. I found the hot pool quite warm enough for me
indeed, I could feel my heart racing and so never tried the
really hot one.
On Saturday, November 4, our teams continued with the
first-contact simulations. The interaction was very interesting,
since it turned out that Earth had received a warning series of
radio messages about the aHissst from a civilization at Epsilon
Indi, where first contact between the aHissst and the natives had
gone quite badly. We continued to attempt to communicate through
messages sent back and forth, and the afternoon culminated in
successful face-to-face first contact between both groups (taking
place in the vicinity of Neptune, in the case of our two teams).
In the evening, we had another terrific dinner, followed by a
wonderful Japanese tea ceremony, then a large party in the
dinning hall, with yet more food. I arrived about five minutes
late (the Japanese are extraordinarily punctual), and found
everyone seated and waiting for me. They all had beer or sake,
but I was led to a chair in the exact centre of the room, where
they had placed a bottle of Coke for me and a tray of North
American treats (including Kit-Kat bars and cookies). They then
presented me with a thank-you gift for being Guest of Honor, and
we proceeded to party for several hours. Many people had brought
Japanese edition of my books for me to sign, which was very nice.
The conversation was quite wide-ranging, and I was asked very
direct questions ("Are you pro-choice?" "Do you believe in
God?"). It was a truly wonderful and very enlightening evening.
Sunday morning, November 5, was spent with each pair of teams
reporting about their own first-contact simulations. All six
groups had ended up making face-to-face contact, which pleased
everyone. (Two years ago, the first contact scenario Poul
Anderson had devised involved radio communication with a star 20
light-years distant, and the participants were frustrated that no
actual contact was possible.) One pair of teams had a human
terrorist attack the aHissst contact delegation with a sword.
After the reports, Ryuichi Kaneko (the science journalist
specializing in vertebrate paleontology) and I did a panel
discussion about the possibilities of dinosaurs having evolved
intelligence if they hadn't been wiped out 65 million years ago.
We then had lunch, followed by the Guest of Honor speeches.
First up was the conference's science guest, Jun Jugaku, an
expert on SETI (the Search for ExtraTerrestrial Intelligence),
who gave a fascinating talk about extrasolar planets (translated
in whispered English for me by a woman named Takahashi Masayo,
who was sitting next to me).
I then gave my Guest of Honor speech. I had hoped to have
written my speech in advance, so that Masamichi Osako, who was
translating for me, could have a printed text to work from, but
the time pressures of getting ready for Carolyn and my move to a
new home had prevented that. Still, he did an excellent job of
translating, getting even bigger laughs for my jokes than I
thought they really deserved.
My speech was about unquestioned assumption: four areas in which
we almost always tacitly assume aliens will be like us, but in
fact in which they may differ radically. The first area I spoke
about was susceptibility to anesthesia; without it, surgery would
be torture for humans, and much of the medical knowledge we now
have would still elude us. There's no real necessity that pain
sensors evolve with a way to be shut off by the administering of
foreign chemicals, nor any necessity that such chemicals wouldn't
also derail the autonomic nervous system, as well, so that
besides stopping pain they might also stop your heart.
The second area one that had been implicitly assumed by me and
everyone else working on the first-contact simulations was
that aliens would have the ability to conceptualize in arbitrary
symbols. I wrote two Japanese ideograms that I had learned on
the white board: a divided square that represents a rice field,
and three little trees, representing a forest. I pointed out
that these are not arbitrary but rather very directly
representative of the objects they express. I then drew the
standard biologist's gender symbols, which are also used in
Japan: the circle with an arrow coming out of it at 2 o'clock
for "male" and the circle with a cross beneath it for "female."
I pointed out that these were not arbitrary, either: the male
symbol represents Mars' circular shield and pointed spear, and
the female symbol represents Venus' circular hand mirror, with a
handle sticking out of its bottom edge. Using any of these
symbols required one type of thinking the ability to reduce a
complex object to a simple, stylized representation.
I then drew some of the symbols that the various alien and human
teams had employed in the messages they had exchanged, including
a "T" shape that, depending on its orientation, had been used by
one group to mean addition, subtraction, multiplication, or
division. I also wrote the English words "forest" and "force,"
showing that they were also quite arbitrary, in no way
representative of the concepts they expressed, and totally
unrelated to each other, despite their similar appearance. Such
symbols, I said, were something that humans manipulated with
great ease, but aliens might not be able to comprehend.
I then spoke briefly about birth control (one of the many topics
that had come up at the party the night before). I had
established that my aHissst aliens laid eggs in large clutches,
and that almost all egglings lived to reproduce, meaning their
population would swell rapidly. Every one of the participants
had assumed an easy birth-control method could be found to keep
population growth in check. I suggested that this, too, might be
an unwarranted assumption about aliens; it might be a fluke of
human physiology that allows sex to be pleasurable without the
actual mixing of body fluids, or without conception.
In Japan, the birth-control pill is not approved for human use;
the federal drug regulator considers it unsafe (and, because
Japanese diets are very high in sodium, thanks to all the soy
sauce, and since high levels of sodium cause hypertension, and
hypertension is indeed a contraindicator for the use of oral
contraceptives, this might indeed be the right choice); the
standard method of birth control is the condom. But I suggested
one could easily envision an alien race for whom the pleasure
associated with sex came specifically from a neurotransmitter
produced by the mixing of male and female genital fluids, or by
the act of conception (which, after all, in humans, triggers
immediate hormonal changes in the woman); for such a race of
beings, neither the barrier method of birth control, nor oral
contraceptives that fool the woman's body into thinking it is
already pregnant, would be effective.
Finally, I talked about insanity, which might be a uniquely human
problem, or might be universal. If it's universal, then as
technologies become cheaper and more widely disseminated, any
race might face destruction at the hands of a single lunatic. I
explained that the Cold War acronym MAD, for Mutually Assured
Destruction, was a bit of English word play, since the word
could mean both angry and crazy, and the underlying assumption of
that strategy was that you'd have to be crazy to strike first
with nuclear weapons. MAD might have made some sense early in
the nuclear age, assuming that the belief that governments act
rationally has any validity, but as soon as such technology is in
the hands of individuals, as it likely will be on Earth before
the end of the 21st century, any level of insanity might be a
threat to our species and any other intelligent species it
might come in contact with.
After, I did a question-and-answer session. The first question
was quite blunt: in my initial first-contact scenario, used by
all six teams, the aHissst sent four radio messages to Earth.
The first showed the Hissst body plan and solar system. The
second and third showed simple mathematical problems, with three
possible answers given, and the fourth was also a multiple-choice
question, with three possible answers. The question, represented
symbolically with snippets of DNA, basically asked whether or
not, in dealing with others, nepotism was the most important
factor. The idea behind the question was that any species still
at the selfish-gene level of thinking would be incapable of
dealing altruistically with aliens who were obviously unrelated
to them; there were two proffered answers designed to convey yes
or no responses to this, and a third choice that basically made
no sense. The question put to me from the floor was this: why
did I make the fourth message so hard to decipher?
My first response elicited much laughter after it was translated
for the audience by Masamichi: I said I'd made it difficult
because in North America, we're taught that Japanese are much
smarter than we are. I then went on to explain at some length
the points I was trying to convey with that message, namely that
aliens might want no contact with races that were still driven by
the favoring of genetic relatives or with races that were insane
(because of the possible threat of destruction they represent);
choosing the nonsense answer would suggest that the race being
contacted was indeed insane. I concluded by saying we wouldn't
have had two days of fun if I'd made the puzzle too simple, a
comment that, to my relief, generated much applause.
Over lunch, I'd mentioned I was interested in finding a store
that sold Japanese science-fiction toys. Suddenly a plan
developed among my new Japanese friends. Mr. Adachi would drive
Carolyn and my luggage back to Tokyo; we and ten others would
take the train back to Tokyo (which was supposed to be faster
than driving), and then our whole group (led by Mitsuyasu Sakai)
would go out to Nakomo Broadway, where, I was told, there would
be several stores selling science-fiction toys.
I found something I wanted at the very first store I went into, a
wonderful set of vehicles from Gerry and Sylvia Anderson's
Thunderbirds TV series, one of my favourite programs in my youth.
I was contemplating whether I wanted to spend the money (7800
yen, which was US$78 or Cdn$117, when I was informed that Mr.
Shiozawa of Hayakawa SF Magazine had given strict orders that a
special toy be bought for me as a present from the people at the
Hayakawa party. I was astonished by this generosity, and my
companion plucked the box from my hand and immediately bought it
for me. The collection Thunderbirds 1, 2, 3, and 4, plus FAB
1, and the Mole will occupy a special place in Carolyn and my
At the next store, I found something else I very much wanted: a
series of wonderful 10 cm Planet of the Apes figures. These were
a Japanese product (made by a company called Medicom) that I'd
never seen in North America. Each figure was 2400 yen (US$24 /
Cdn$36), and I bought one of each of the seven different ones
they had in stock. There were, according to the packaging, a
total of 19 figures in the series, and I vowed to keep my eyes
open for the others during the rest of my trip to Japan.
One thing I saw that I did not buy was a fabulous 1:1-scale
replica of the actual studio miniature of the Klingon battle
cruiser from the original Star Trek series. This was one of a
limited edition made by Icons in the U.S.; I'd heard of this
replica, but had never seen one in the flesh before. At 200,000
yen (US$2,000 or Cdn$3,000), it was much too expensive to buy on
the spur of the moment and, besides, I couldn't see any way to
get it safely back to Canada, but I'll certainly be looking for
one (hopefully somewhat cheaper!) back in North America, even
though Icons is out of business.
Carolyn was fascinated by something she saw while shopping. It
looked like a normal North American claw arcade game, except
instead of using the claw to grasp stuffed animals, you grasp
After we finished shopping, the ten of us went out for dinner to
a Chinese restaurant; Chinese food turns out to be as popular
with Japanese fans as it is with North American ones. But
Chinese cuisine was introduced separately to Japan and North
America, and has undergone separate evolution in each place.
None of the items I was used to seeing on Chinese menus were
available here. Still, the food was excellent, and we all had a
After dinner, Mr. Adachi (the same fellow who had driven our
luggage here from the conference centre) picked up the check for
everyone, saying his company would pay for it. "He's not rich,"
quipped one of my companions, "but the company he works for is."
After dinner, Mr. Adachi and Mr. Sakai drove Carolyn and me to
our new hotel. We were staying tonight in the Tokyo Prince; our
Japanese friends were very impressed when we told them that; it
was apparently a very famous and very ritzy hotel. But we'd
simply chosen it because a packaged tour we planned to take
tomorrow was scheduled to depart from there, and, actually, our
travel agent had gotten us a very good rate at the hotel (17,800
yen, which is US$178 or Cdn$267, quite reasonable for Tokyo).
The trip to the hotel gave us our first real sense of Tokyo as an
alien place. Toronto's downtown core measures maybe 10 km by 6
km, after which you get away from the sky scrapers. But we drove
for a solid hour, at a good clip, and never got out of downtown
Tokyo. Our friends dropped us at our hotel, which was indeed
very classy. But our bed was as hard as a rock, and I woke up on
Monday morning, November 6, with a back ache that just got worse
and worse as the day wore on.
Our tour began on Monday with a trip halfway up Mount Fuji. In
the afternoon, we took a brief cruise on Lake Ashi and rode the
aerial cableway up Mount Komagatake. But fog had rolled in, and
there was no view at all to be had from the mountaintop. Still,
we did visit a nice Shinto shrine up there, which was quite eerie
in the fog.
That evening, we went to a lovely countryside resort town called
Hakone, famous for its hot springs. Our lodgings were at the
stunningly beautiful resort Hotel Kowaki-en, one of the most
beautiful places I've ever stayed in. The restaurants were very
pricey though (US$6.00 for a Coke or a cup of tea), so we walked
to a nearby convenience store and bought cheese, crackers, milk,
pound cake, and a few other goodies, and had a fine little dinner
in our room, which was large and had very comfortable beds.
By this point, my back ache was excruciating. It turned out that
Carolyn happened to have some Tylenol 3 tablets with her (a
prescription-strength acetaminophen/codeine combination). I took
three of them and lay down in bed to read; they worked like
magic, and the pain went away. Carolyn, meanwhile, took
advantage of the hotel spring-fed baths and had a nice long soak.
We slept with the window open, listening to the soothing sound of
a stream going by outside our window; it was truly a lovely
On Tuesday morning, November 7, I woke up very well rested. My
back pain had returned somewhat, but it was much diminished from
the day before, and I made it through Tuesday without much
trouble. I also thought I was getting a cold when I woke up I
had a terribly sore throat but it had cleared up by the end of
We drove through the Hakone mountains to Odawara Station and took
a bullet train to Nagoya. We'd paid a small premium on our tour
price in order to get deluxe accommodation, and that turned out
to apply to the bullet train, too. We were seated in first
class, which really was just like first class on an airplane
big, comfortable seats. The train took two hours to get us to
Nagoya, during which I worked on this diary. In Nagoya, we had a
fabulous buffet lunch, then visited Japan's largest castle
Nagoya Castle and the Toyota Commemorative Museum of Industry
and Technology, which was fascinating. After that, we took a
regular commuter train to Toba, and checked into the Toba Hotel
Like the Hotel Kowaki-en in Hakone, the Toba was a lovely hotel.
It was right on the coast with a beautiful ocean view. But, the
restaurant wanted $40 US for dinner, and there was no convenience
store to be seen. Luckily, Carolyn wandered into the Ryokan
section of the hotel, and their shop had a Pepsi machine and
The next morning our tour started at Pearl Island. Here we saw
the pearl diving women and the Mikimoto museum. In 1893, we
learned, Mikimoto Kokichi was the first person to culture pearls.
In the afternoon we went to Ise-Jingu Shrine, Japan's most sacred
Shinto centre. Here they had protective barriers on the tree
trunks to keep people from taking bark souvenirs. And you could
not take photographs inside the shrine. It was a beautiful,
We took the train to Kyoto and stayed at the Miyako Hotel. This
was yet another beautiful hotel. It was very close to a subway
station and we hopped the train at 8:00 p.m. to go shopping at
the arcades. Here Carolyn saw another live-lobster tank. This
one was on the street, so the lobsters were cold and quiet.
Everywhere in Japan there are vending machines on the streets.
You can buy just about anything from these machines.
The next morning was our last tour day. We took a bus around
Kyoto stopping at a number of sights. We saw the Golden
Pavilion, Nijo Castle (with its nightingale floors that
deliberately squeak when you walk on them, so no assassin
could sneak up on the emperor), and the Kyoto Imperial Palace.
We had lunch at the Kyoto Handicraft Centre. The lunch was
unspectacular, but the items for sale were very beautiful.
Carolyn bought two t-shirts.
We boarded a second bus for an afternoon tour of Nara. The
Todaiji Temple, housing the Great Buddha, was a very large and
very dark wooden building. It was difficult to get a good
photograph. The deer in the surrounding park were very brazen; I
was almost bowled over for my food. We also saw the Kasuga
Shrine. The guide told us that a Japanese woman would not like
to be compared to wisteria a flowering plant that, while
beautiful, strangles the tree to which it is attached.
We headed back to Kyoto for a second night at the Miyako Hotel,
spending the evening at the shopping arcades.
Friday morning we were met by Rintaro Kato of the Kyoto SF
Festival. He took us by taxi to a Chinese restaurant where all
the SF professionals were gathering for lunch. We had a fabulous
time. The food was plentiful and excellent. We were introduced
to Japanese cellular phones that take digital photos and upload
them to the internet. I got to meet Ms. Hiroe Suga who is in
David G. Hartwell's Year's Best SF 5 with me. Also at the lunch
was Nozomi Ohmori who had interviewed me in Tokyo. Carolyn was
amazed by the way his sweater matched his hair colour. (It was
not unusual to see Japanese people with their hair dyed, but
Nozomi's eggplant colour was unique.)
Rintaro took us to a hotel that he had booked for us, and prepaid
for our dinner at the hotel restaurant. I was not feeling well,
so Carolyn decided to explore the neighbourhood on foot. She
took the subway down to the Kyoto train station to book our hotel
accommodation in Tokyo for Monday night through an organization
called Welcome Inns.
Rintaro came back for us on Saturday morning to take us to the
Japanese inn where the first day of the convention would be held.
All the rooms were Japanese-style with tatami mats, but ours had
an en suite bathroom. There was a back door on the room that led
to a sort of balcony over a carp pond with a refrigerator on it.
At the opening ceremonies almost everyone got up and introduced
themselves. It was a very fun and friendly group. Yoshihiro
Shiozawa (Editor in Chief, Hayakawa's SF Magazine) had come from
Tokyo with copies of my books to sell. Someone was kind enough
to get me a chair, and by stacking two low tables I could sign
the books in comfort.
The Kyoto people had multi-track programming in the rooms at the
Japanese inn. We saw a fabulous origami demonstration as a
master was teaching others how to make a King Ghidorah. There
were people of all ages making origami figures. Carolyn was
shown how to make a crane (a symbol of long life).
They had also decided to do their own first-contact simulation
that was supposed to last two hours. It went until very early in
the morning. I had to turn in well before then as I was ill, but
didn't know it yet. [When I got back to Toronto, I was diagnosed
with campylobacterosis, a kind of food poisoning related to
salmonella; I probably got it from some tainted milk I drank in
We had a knock on our door at 8:45 a.m. to get us to check out;
we hadn't understood that we were changing hotels today, and so
had to scurry to get ready.
Sunday's programming was at the University of Kyoto. There were
panels and talks. Someone told me that this festival is known as
"the napping convention" and I could see why: people who had
not gotten much sleep the night before were snoozing in the
The convention ended with Dr. Reiko Noda (think of "Yoda," she
said) doing a live on-stage interview with me. Her questions
were terrific; it was the best Guest of Honor interview I've ever
We met many people. We have business cards from many of them,
but often the romaji (roman type) spelling of their names is not
on the card.
We spent our last night in Kyoto at another Hotel. I wish we had
been able to see more of Kyoto. It's such a beautiful city.
On Monday morning, November 13, we took the bullet train back
from Kyoto to Tokyo. It was once again a very pleasant way to
travel. We dropped our luggage at the hotel we were staying at,
which was just a few hundred metres from Tokyo station. Carolyn
and I then spent the afternoon shopping and sight-seeing.
By pure coincidence, just prior to us leaving Canada for our trip
to Japan, I received a letter from Len Edwards, Canada's
ambassador to Japan. He wrote to say he was a fan of my work,
and wondered if I might be interested in participating in a
Canadian festival in Japan next year. I'd immediately contacted
his office to say that I was actually just about to come to Japan
for the first time. We'd set up a meeting for Carolyn and me
with Ambassador Edwards on Monday afternoon at 4:00 p.m.
The Canadian embassy was designed by Japanese-Canadian architect
Raymond Moriyama, who, in another coincidence, I had done a lot
of freelance writing and editing for in 1988 and 1989. It's a
truly beautiful (and truly huge) building, near the Japanese
Imperial Palace. We had a wonderful chat with Ambassador Edwards
plus Deanna Horton, the economic minister-counselor. While we
were talking, Ambassador Edwards said that another fan of my work
in Japan is Norio Murakami, the President of Nortel Japan (Nortel
formerly Northern Telecom is Canada's largest company).
After a little telephone tag, it was arranged that we'd be picked
up at our hotel the next morning and taken to the Nortel offices
to meet the president.
I was still not feeling 100%, so I turned in early on Monday
night, and Carolyn went shopping in downtown Tokyo.
Tuesday morning, our last day in Japan, the promised car was
indeed waiting for us, and we headed off to Nortel. President,
Murakami and his vice-president, Gary Ito, a third-generation
Japanese-Canadian who has now moved back to Japan, spent about 40
minutes chatting with Carolyn and me, and taking pictures of us
for the company newsletter. Afterwards, the president's
chauffeur took us to Odaiba. We went into a big, beautiful,
upscale shopping centre, made up on the inside to look like a
European street scene. The lighting in the mall dims and
brightens each hour to simulate a full day. We had a fabulous
Italian lunch there, then headed back to our hotel via the
Yurikamome monorail, got our luggage, and took the train out to
Once again, the plane was mostly empty in fact, it had even
fewer passengers on it than did the flight on our way to Japan.
Carolyn and I each took a row of five seats across (as did many
of the other passengers), and slept for much of the 12-hour trip
We later received Christmas cards and photographs from many of the
wonderful people we met in Japan. It was a truly spectacular
trip. I'm really looking forward to returning to Japan in April
2001 to speak at the Canadian embassy, and hope to make many more
trips there after that. Hopefully, the Japanese will win their
bid to have the World Science Fiction Convention there in 2007;
that would be a wonderful, tax-deductible reason to return to
the beautiful land of the rising sun . . .
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