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

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ROBERT J. SAWYER: Backgrounder

Introduction | Awards and Honors | Style and Themes | SF/Mystery Crossovers | Critical Studies | Other Activities | References | External Links | Interviews

This comprehensive backgrounder (updated February 2021) has been vetted by Fiona Kelleghan of the University of Miami, one of the world's foremost Robert J. Sawyer scholars.


Robert James Sawyer is a Canadian science fiction writer, born in Ottawa on 29 April 1960 and has lived in Mississauga since 2000. He has published 24 novels, [1a] and his short fiction has appeared in Analog Science Fiction and Fact, Amazing Stories, On Spec, Nature, and over seventy-five anthologies. [2] [3]

[Robert J. Sawyer]

Standalone Novels:

The Quintaglio Ascension Trilogy:

The Neanderthal Parallax Trilogy:

The WWW Trilogy:

Awards and Honors

[Nebula Trophy] Sawyer has won sixty-four national and international awards for his fiction, [1b] [4a] most prominently the 1995 Nebula Award [5] [pictured] for his novel The Terminal Experiment; the 2003 Hugo Award [6] for his novel Hominids, the first volume of his Neanderthal Parallax trilogy; and the 2006 John W. Campbell Memorial Award [7] for his novel Mindscan. He has had two additional Nebula nominations, ten additional Hugo nominations, and four additional Campbell Memorial Award nominations. [4b]

His books have appeared on the major top-ten national mainstream bestsellers' lists in Canada, as published by The Globe and Mail newspaper [8] and Maclean's magazine, [9] and they have reached number one on the bestsellers' list published by Locus, [10] the trade-journal of the SF field. Translated editions have appeared in Bulgarian, Chinese, Czech, Dutch, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Polish, Romanian, Russian, Serbian, and Spanish, [1c] and he has won major SF awards in Canada, [11] China, [12] France, [13] Japan, [14] Spain, [15] [16] [17] and the United States. [1d]

In 2002, Sawyer received Ryerson University's Alumni Award of Distinction in honor of his international success as a science fiction writer [18] (Sawyer graduated from Ryerson in 1982 with a Bachelor of Applied Arts in Radio and Television Arts). [1e] On June 2, 2007, Sawyer received an honorary doctorate (Doctor of Letters, honoris causa) from Laurentian University in Sudbury, Ontario, [19] and on June 12, 2014, he received a second honorary doctorate (Doctor of Laws, honoris causa) from the University of Winnipeg.

In 2014, Sawyer was one of the initial inductees into the Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame. In 2016, he was inducted into the Order of Canada, the highest honor bestowed by the Canadian government, and in 2017 he was made a member of the Order of Ontario, the highest honor bestowed by his home province; in both cases, he was the first person ever to be inducted for work in the science-fiction field.

Style and Themes

[Calculating God] Sawyer's work frequently explores the intersection between science and religion, with rationalism always winning out over mysticism [20a] (see especially Far-Seer, The Terminal Experiment, Calculating God, and the three volumes of the Neanderthal Parallax [Hominids, Hominids, and Hybrids], plus the short story "The Abdication of Pope Mary III," originally published in Nature, July 6, 2000).

He has a great fondness for paleontology, as evidenced in his Quintaglio Ascension trilogy (Far-Seer, Fossil Hunter, and Foreigner), about an alien world to which dinosaurs from Earth were transplanted, and his time-travel novel End of an Era. In addition, the main character of Calculating God is a paleontologist, Wake features a chase scene at the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology in Beijing, and the Neanderthal Parallax novels deal with an alternate version of Earth where Neanderthals did not become extinct.

Sawyer often explores the notion of copied or uploaded human consciousness, most fully in his novel Mindscan, but also in FlashForward, Golden Fleece and The Terminal Experiment, plus the Hugo-, Nebula-, and Aurora-award-nominated novella "Identity Theft," its sequel the Aurora-winning short story "Biding Time," and the Hugo- and Aurora-award-nominated short story "Shed Skin."

His interest in consciousness studies is also apparent in his WWW trilogy, beginning with Wake, which deals with the spontaneous emergence of consciousness in the infrastructure of the World Wide Web. His interest in quantum physics, and especially quantum computing, inform the short stories "You See But You Do Not Observe" [21] (a Sherlock Holmes pastiche) and "Iterations," [22] and the novels Factoring Humanity and Hominids.

SETI, the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, plays a role in the plots of Golden Fleece, Factoring Humanity, Mindscan, Rollback, the novelette "Ineluctable," and the short stories "You See But You Do Not Observe" and "Flashes." Sawyer gives cosmology a thorough workout in his far-future Starplex. [23]

Real-life science institutions are often used as settings by Sawyer, including TRIUMF in End of an Era, CERN in FlashForward, the Royal Ontario Museum in Calculating God, the Sudbury Neutrino Observatory in Hominids and its sequels, and the Arecibo Observatory in Rollback.

Another Sawyer hallmark is the mortally ill main character. Pierre Tardivel in Frameshift suffers from Huntington's disease, Thomas Jericho in Calculating God has lung cancer, and Jacob Sullivan in Mindscan has an arteriovenous malformation in his brain; one of the main characters in Rollback vividly suffers from that most fatal illness of all, old age. Sawyer nonetheless is known for tales that end on an upbeat, and even transcendent, note. [24]

Sawyer is unusual even among Canadian SF writers for the blatantly Canadian settings and concerns addressed in his novels, all of which are issued by New York houses. His politics are often described as liberal by Canadian standards (although he contributed a Hugo Award-nominated story called "The Hand You're Dealt" [25] to the Libertarian SF anthology Free Space, and another called "The Right's Tough" [26] to the Prometheus Award-winning Libertarian SF anthology Visions of Liberty). He holds citizenship in both Canada and the United States, and has been known to criticize the politics of both countries. He often has American characters visiting Canada (such as Karen Bessarian in Mindscan and Caitlin Decter in Wake) or Canadian characters visiting the U.S. (such as Pierre Tardivel in Frameshift and Mary Vaughan in Hominids and Hybrids) as a way of comparing and contrasting the perceived values of the two countries.

Sawyer's style is simple, with clear prose, that Orson Scott Card compared to that of Isaac Asimov. [27] [28a] He has a tendency to include pop-culture references in his novels (his fondness for the original Star Trek, The Six Million Dollar Man, and Planet of the Apes is impossible to miss).

SF/Mystery Crossovers

Sawyer's work often crosses over from science fiction to mystery; he won both Canada's top SF award (the Aurora Award) and its top mystery-fiction award (the Arthur Ellis Award [pictured]) for his 1993 short story "Just Like Old Times." [29] Illegal Alien is a courtroom drama with an extraterrestrial defendant; Hominids puts one Neanderthal on trial by his peers for the apparent murder of another Neanderthal; Mindscan has the rights of uploaded consciousnesses explored in a Michigan probate court; Red Planet Blues is a hardboiled detective novel set on Mars; and Golden Fleece, Fossil Hunter, The Terminal Experiment, Frameshift, and FlashForward are all, in part, murder mysteries.

Of Sawyer's shorter SF works, the novella "Identity Theft" and the short stories "Biding Time," "Flashes," "Iterations," "Shed Skin," "The Stanley Cup Caper," "You See But You Do Not Observe," and the aforementioned "Just Like Old Times" are all also crime or mystery fiction, and "Looking for Gordo" depicts a courtroom battle.

Critical Studies

[Gospel According to SF] Conference papers about Sawyer's work include "The Science and Religion Dialogue in the Science Fiction of Robert J. Sawyer," by Valerie Broege, presented at The Uses of the Science Fiction Genre: An Interdisciplinary Symposium, Brock University, October 2005 [30]; "The Intimately Human and the Grandly Cosmic: Humor and the Sublime in the Works of Robert J. Sawyer," by Fiona Kelleghan, presented at the 29th annual International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts in Orlando, Florida, March 2008; [31] and "Time and the Fiction of Robert J. Sawyer: Flash Forward to the End of an Era," also by Fiona Kelleghan, presented at the 30th annual International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts, March 2009. [32]

Critical studies and scholarly reviews of Sawyer's work have appeared in many places, including:

  • The Gospel According to Science Fiction [pictured] by Gabriel McKee [33] [Sawyer's work is extensively discussed in book. Sample: "Though the novels [The Terminal Experiment and Hybrids] differ in their theories on the actual nature of the soul, both offer the hypothesis that the origin of human consciousness is an empirically detectable force" (p. 48)];

  • Worlds of Wonder: Readings in Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy Literature edited by Jean-Francois Leroux and Camille R. La Bossiere [the papers "Coding of Race in Science Fiction: What's Wrong With the Obvious?" by Sherryl Vint (which discusses Illegal Alien at length) and "Robots and Artificial Intelligence in Asimov's The Caves of Steel and Sawyer's Golden Fleece" by Ruby S. Ramraj);

  • The Everyday Fantastic: Essays on Science Fiction and Human Being edited by Michael Berman [34] [Valerie Broege's paper "The Science and Religion Dialogue in the Science Fiction of Robert J. Sawyer:" "I will focus on the following topics in relation to Sawyer's writings: his cosmological speculations that involve both science and religion and the question of the existence of God and His or Her nature, whether we live in a designed universe, how our religious thinking may have contaminated our scientific theories, and whether or not religious experiences or the human soul can reduced just to our physiology" (p. 141)];

  • Science Fiction and Philosophy: From Time Travel to Superintelligence edited by Susan Schneider [35] [Schneider's own paper "Mindscan: Transcending and Enhancing the Human Brain:" "Sawyer's novel is a reductio ad absurdum of the patternist conception of the person" (p. 248)];

  • Dinosaurs in Fantastic Fiction: A Thematic Survey by Allen A. Debus [36] ["Collectively, Sawyer's Far-Seer, Fossil Hunter, and Foreigner are the greatest trilogy of tales ever written about intelligent, space-faring dinosaurs" (p. 118)];

  • The New York Review of Science Fiction (including 5,000 words by Richard Parent on the "Neanderthal Parallax" trilogy in the June 2004 issue [37] ["Robert J. Sawyer's ambitious new trilogy, The Neanderthal Parallax, presents a provocative challenge to literary analysis — its hybridized nature brings together utopian, dystopian, and traditional sf tropes" (p. 19)], the essay "Robert J. Sawyer in Summer 2005: Mad Play" by Donald M. Hassler in the December 2005 issue, and commentary by Fiona Kelleghan in the cover story of the November 2008 issue);

  • the SFRA Review [38] [39] [40] [41] [42] [citations are full text; see for details];

  • a scholarly afterword entitled "Robert J. Sawyer's Place in Science Fiction" by Valerie Broege in Sawyer's own essay collection Relativity ["Sawyer places himself squarely in the American pulp-science fiction magazine tradition of the 1920s-1950s in his attempts to evoke a sense of wonder in his readers" (p. 289)]; and

  • Canadian Journal of Criminology and Criminal Justice [43] ["Sawyer's fictional situations present readers with opportunities to apply their criminological imaginations more implicitly, allowing one to relate to and distinguish criminological theory present in modern day society"].

His fiction has received starred reviews (denoting "books of exceptional merit") in Publishers Weekly, [44a] [45] [46] Library Journal, [47] Booklist, [44b] Quill & Quire, [44c] Kliatt, and Anatomy of Wonder: A Critical Guide to Science Fiction, Fifth Edition, by Neil Barron.

Sawyer is profiled in The Canadian Encyclopedia, [28b] Canadian Who's Who, [48] Encyclopedia of Literature in Canada, [49] The Oxford Companion to Canadian Literature, Contemporary Authors volume 212, [50] Something About the Author volume 81, [20b] St. James Guide to Science Fiction Writers, and The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction. The hour-long documentary In the Mind of Robert J. Sawyer premiered on Canadian television on January 8, 2003, [51] and has been shown numerous times since on various channels, including Space: The Imagination Station, for which Sawyer is a frequent commentator.

Sawyer's papers are housed at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario. In 2013, McMaster held the academic conference Science Fiction: The Interdisciplinary Genre in honor of Sawyer's archival donation.

Other Activities

[Supernatural Investigator] In addition to his own writing, Sawyer edited the Robert J. Sawyer Books [52] science-fiction imprint for Red Deer Press, part of Canadian publisher Fitzhenry & Whiteside; contributes to The New York Review of Science Fiction; [53] is The Canadian Encyclopedia's authority on science fiction; [54] and is a judge for the Writers of the Future [55] contest.

In 2009-2010, ABC produced 22 episodes of the hour-long dramatic TV series FlashForward, based on Sawyer's similarly novel of the same name, after successful production in February and March 2009 of a pilot episode scripted by David S. Goyer and Brannon Braga, directed by Goyer, and starring Joseph Fiennes and Sonya Walger. [56] Sawyer was story consultant on each episode of the series and wrote the 19th episode, entitled "Course Correction." [57]

Sawyer wrote the original series bible for Charlie Jade, an hour-long science-fiction TV series that first aired in 2005-2006, and he did conceptual work in 2003 for reviving Robotech. He has also written and narrated documentaries about science fiction for CBC Radio's Ideas series, and he hosted the 17-part weekly half-hour documentary series Supernatural Investigator [pictured] for Canada's Vision TV, which premiered January 27, 2009 [58]. He provided analysis of the British science fiction series Doctor Who for the CBC's online documentary The Planet of the Doctor, [59] frequently comments on science fiction movies for TVOntario's Saturday Night at the Movies, and co-edited an essay collection in honor of the fortieth anniversary of Star Trek with David Gerrold, entitled Boarding the Enterprise.

Sawyer has taught science-fiction writing at the University of Toronto, Ryerson University, Humber College, and the Banff Centre. In 2000, he served as Writer-in-Residence at the Richmond Hill, Ontario, Public Library. In 2003, he was Writer-in-Residence at the Toronto Public Library's Merril Collection of Science Fiction, Speculation and Fantasy (the first person to hold this post since Judith Merril herself in 1987). [60] In 2006, he was Writer-in-Residence at the Odyssey Writing Workshop. Also in 2006, he was the Edna Staebler Writer-in-Residence at the Kitchener Public Library in the Region of Waterloo, Ontario, [61] following on the Region of Waterloo's choice of Sawyer's Hominids as the "One Book, One Community" [62] title that all 490,000 residents were encouraged to read in 2005. In 2007 he was the Berton House Writer-in-Residence at Berton House in Dawson City. In 2009, he was the first-ever Writer-in-Residence at the Canadian Light Source, Canada's national synchrotron facility in Saskatoon. [63]

Sawyer is a frequent keynote speaker about technology topics, [64] [65] and has served as a consultant to Canada's Federal Department of Justice on the shape future genetics laws should take. [66]


^ 1 a b c d e Robert J. Sawyer (2007). Robert J. Sawyer Curriculum Vitae. Retrieved 2010-07-09.

^ 2 Robert J. Sawyer (2007). Short-Fiction Bibliography. Retrieved 2010-07-09.

^ 3 Charles N. Brown and William G. Contento (2007). The Locus Index to Science Fiction (1984-1998). Retrieved 2007-12-06.

^ 4 a b Mark R. Kelly (2007). Locus Index to Science Fiction Awards. Retrieved 2010-07-09.

^ 5 SFWRITER.COM Inc. (1995). Nebula Award win for The Terminal Experiment. Retrieved 2010-07-09.

^ 6 SFWRITER.COM Inc. (2003). Hugo Award win for Hominids. Retrieved 2010-07-09.

^ 7 SFWRITER.COM Inc. (2006). John W. Campbell Memorial Award win for Mindscan. Retrieved 2010-07-09.

^ 8 SFWRITER.COM Inc. (2000). Calculating God on Globe and Mail Bestseller List. Retrieved 2007-12-06.

^ 9 SFWRITER.COM Inc. (2000). Calculating God on Maclean's Bestseller List. Retrieved 2007-12-06.

^ 10 Locus (2001). Bestsellers List for October 2001. Retrieved 2010-07-09.

^ 11 Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy Association (2004). Prix Aurora Awards: A Brief History (1980-2004). Retrieved 2008-12-31.

^ 12 Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (2007). Canadian sci-fi scribe Sawyer honoured in China. Retrieved 2008-12-31.

^ 13 Pierre Michaut (1999). Past winners of Le Grand Prix de l'Imaginaire. Retrieved 2008-12-31.

^ 14 Japanese Association for Science Fiction International Communication (2007). List of 'Seiun Award' winning overseas works. Retrieved 2008-12-31.

^ 15 Universitat Politcnica de Catalunya (2004). Science-Fiction at the UPC 2004 Edition. Retrieved 2008-12-31.

^ 16 Universitat Politcnica de Catalunya (1998). Science-Fiction at the UPC 1998 Edition. Retrieved 2008-12-31.

^ 17 Universitat Politcnica de Catalunya (1997). Science-Fiction at the UPC 1997 Edition. Retrieved 2008-12-31.

^ 18 Ryerson University (2002). Ryerson Alumni Achievement Awards 2002. Retrieved 2007-09-25.

^ 19 Robert J. Sawyer blog (2007). Honorary Doctorate for Robert J. Sawyer. Retrieved 2010-07-09.

^ 20 a b J. Sydney Jones (2004). Something About the Author on Robert J. Sawyer (Sidelights). Retrieved 2007-12-06.

^ 21 Robert J. Sawyer (1995). You See But You Do Not Observe (short story). Retrieved 2010-07-09.

^ 22 Robert J. Sawyer (2000). Iterations (short story). Retrieved 2010-07-09.

^ 23 Andrew Fraknoi (1997). Science Fiction Stories with Good Science. Retrieved 2007-12-06.

^ 24 Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (2007). Sawyer says Chinese readers see freedom in sci-fi's ideas. Retrieved 2007-12-06.

^ 25 Robert J. Sawyer (1997). The Hand You're Dealt (short story). Retrieved 2010-07-09.

^ 26 Robert J. Sawyer (2004). The Right's Tough (short story). Retrieved 2010-07-09.

^ 27 Orson Scott Card (1990). Review of Golden Fleece. Retrieved 2007-08-11.

^ 28 a b Historica Foundation of Canada (2007). The Canadian Encyclopedia on Robert J. Sawyer. Retrieved 2007-12-04.

^ 29 Robert J. Sawyer (1993). Just Like Old Times (short story). Retrieved 2010-07-09.

^ 30 Michael Berman (2005). The Uses of the Science Fiction Genre: An Interdisciplinary Symposium. Retrieved 2008-04-15.

^ 31 Fiona Kelleghan (2008). The Intimately Human and the Grandly Cosmic: Humor and the Sublime in the Works of Robert J. Sawyer. Retrieved 2008-04-15.

^ 32 Fiona Kelleghan (2009). Time and the Fiction of Robert J. Sawyer: Flash Forward to the End of an Era. Retrieved 2009-05-10.

^ 33 Gabrielle McKee (2008). The Unified Theology of Robert J. Sawyer's Calculating God. Retrieved 2009-05-10.

^ 34 Michael Berman (2008). The Everyday Fantastic Table of Contents. Retrieved 2008-03-22.

^ 35 Susan Schneider (2009). Science Fiction and Philosophy Table of Contents. Retrieved 2008-11-28.

^ 36 Steven H Silver (2006). Dinosaurs in Fantastic Fiction Review. Retrieved 2008-12-11.

^ 37 Richard Parent (2004). Double Vision: Robert Sawyer's Utopian Dystopia (excerpt). Retrieved 2008-12-29.

^ 38 Janice M. Bogstad (2001). SFRA Review on Calculating God. Retrieved 2007-09-25.

^ 39 Warren G. Rochelle (2002). SFRA Review on Hominids. Retrieved 2007-09-25.

^ 40 Warren G. Rochelle (2003). SFRA Review on Humans. Retrieved 2007-09-25.

^ 41 Philip Snyder (2005). SFRA Review on Mindscan. Retrieved 2007-09-25.

^ 42 Geetha B (2007). SFRA Review on Rollback. Retrieved 2008-03-11.

^ 43 Nick W. Peterson (2006). Canadian Journal of Criminology and Criminal Justice reviews Hybrids. Retrieved 2007-09-25.

^ 44 a b c Margaret Cannon, Orson Scott Card, Cori Dusmann, R. John Hayes, Roberta Johnson, Trevor Klassen, Moira L. MacKinnon, Henry Mietkiewicz, Shane Neilson, Marc Piche, Philip Snyder, Hayden Trenholm, Robert J. Wiersma, and anonymous (1990-2007). Review Tearsheets. Retrieved 2010-07-09.

^ 45 Anonymous (2007). Publishers Weekly reviews Rollback. Retrieved 2009-03-04.

^ 46 Anonymous (2009). Publishers Weekly reviews Wake. Retrieved 2009-03-04.

^ 47 Jackie Cassada (2007). Library Journal reviews Rollback. Retrieved 2007-09-25.

^ 48 University of Toronto Press (2007). Canadian Who's Who on Robert J. Sawyer. Retrieved 2010-07-09.

^ 49 Robert Runte (2005). Curriculum vitae. Retrieved 2008-04-14.

^ 50 Robert J. Sawyer (2003). Autobiography from Contemporary Authors. Retrieved 2010-07-09.

^ 51 MSN TV (2003). In the Mind of Robert J. Sawyer. Retrieved 2007-09-25.

^ 52 Red Deer Press (2007). Robert J. Sawyer Books Submission Guidelines. Retrieved 2007-12-06.

^ 53 The BRB Catalogue (2007). New York Review of Science Fiction #176 to current. Retrieved 2007-12-06.

^ 54 Robert J. Sawyer (2007). Science Fiction in The Canadian Encyclopedia. Retrieved 2007-12-04.

^ 55 Writers of the Future (2007). List of Judges. Retrieved 2007-09-25.

^ 56 Nellie Andreeva (2009). ABC picks up 'Flash Forward'. Retrieved 2009-05-09.

^ 57 SFWRITER.COM Inc. (2008). TV rights to Sawyer's novel Flashforward sold to ABC. Retrieved 2009-05-09.

^ 58 SFWA Pressbook (2009). Robert J. Sawyer hosts Supernatural Investigator. Retrieved 2009-01-28.

^ 59 Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (2005). Planet of the Doctor. Retrieved 2007-09-25.

^ 60 SFWRITER.COM Inc. (2003). Merril Collection Writer-in-Residence. Retrieved 2010-07-09.

^ 61 Robert J. Sawyer blog (2006). Edna Staebler Writer-in-Residence. Retrieved 2010-07-09.

^ 62 Region of Waterloo (2005). One Book, One Community chooses Hominids. Retrieved 2007-09-25.

^ 63 Ashleigh Mattern (2009). Light Speed, Mr. Sawyer — Engage!. Retrieved 2009-05-10.

^ 64 Robert J. Sawyer (2007). Keynotes and Talks. Retrieved 2007-12-05.

^ 65 Speakers' Spotlight (2007). Robert J. Sawyer: The Challenge of Tomorrow. Retrieved 2007-12-05.

^ 66 Steven H. Silver (2003). Genetics Future Forum Includes Author. Retrieved 2007-12-05.

^ 68 Robert J. Sawyer blog (2007). New Deal with Penguin in Canada and USA. Retrieved 2010-07-09.

^ 68 Penguin Group (Canada) (2009). WakeWatchWonder.com. Retrieved 2009-05-09.

^ 69 Stanley Schmidt (2008). Analog Science Fiction and Fact November 2008 issue description and table of contents. Retrieved 2008-11-07.

External links


Derived and expanded from a version of the "GNU Free Documentation License" reference article from the English Wikipedia. All text is available under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License.

More Good Reading

Robert J. Sawyer's CV
Recurring themes in Sawyer's fiction
A list of Sawyer's books currently in print

Decade in Review: January 1999 to December 2008
Rob's 2007 Year in Review
Rob's 2001 Year in Review
Rob's 2000 Year in Review
Rob's 1999 Year in Review
Rob's 1998 Year in Review
Rob's 1997 Year in Review
Rob's 1995 Year in Review

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