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

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Winning the UPC Award

by Robert J. Sawyer

Copyright © 1998 by Robert J. Sawyer
All Rights Reserved.

First published (translated into Spanish) in BEM, Spain's leading SF magazine.

Winning the Premio UPC de Ciencia Ficción, sponsored by Spain's Universitat Politécnica de Catalunya, is an enormous honor; I'm delighted to share the 1997 Grand Prize with James Stevens-Arce. I'm also thrilled to have received the Special Mention in 1996's competition.

I have to confess that in neither case did I write something specifically for the contest. Although the UPC competition accepts works from 25,000 to 40,000 words long, there are virtually no markets left in North America for SF short fiction over 15,000 words long. The two leading American SF magazines, Analog and Asimov's, both cut their page counts in 1996 — and that meant also cutting back their maximum story lengths. So, although I agree with the long-held wisdom that the novella is indeed the natural length for SF, it's simply too much of a gamble to write one solely in hopes that the UPC contest will honor it since there's nowhere to sell the work in English.

So, both last year and the year before, I started with unpublished novels. For my submission from the year before, "Helix," I was actually trying to salvage a work I cared about deeply that looked like it was never going to be published in novel form. My New York agent at the time had been utterly unable to sell the full-length Helix, which I had written on spec (that is, without a contract). Entering the UPC competition seemed a way to at least possibly earn something for all the work I'd done. It meant an incredible amount to me to be receive the Special Mention — it was a vindication of a story I believed in strongly but that, until that time, it seemed no one else did.

After I'd completed the novella version, but before UPC announced its winners, I won a Nebula Award from the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America for Best Novel of the Year (for The Terminal Experiment; a Spanish translation is forthcoming from Ediciones B). I also changed agents, and my new agent managed to sell the novel-length version of this story to Tor Books. The title "Helix" had never been my preferred one for this piece; it was my old agent's suggestion, but is a homophone in English for "he licks" — I thought people would be embarrassed to ask for it by name in bookstores. The book version — which was published in June 1997 — came out (to my delight, to some of the best reviews I've ever received) under my original preferred title, Frameshift.

Well, after having success with that story in the UPC competition, I thought there was nothing to be lost by trying again. Once more, I took a (mostly) completed but not-yet-published novel — this one written with a contract (I'm not going to make that mistake again!) — and undertook to cut it down from book length to something the UPC judges would except.

At the time I entered the manuscript in the contest, the working title for the book was Psychospace, which is the title I submitted the short version to UPC under. But that title has been changed to Factoring Humanity (which I like much better); that's what the novel-length version will be published as in June 1998 (by Tor Books, New York). But having had a short version of the story already win the prestigious UPC Award will give the novel's sales in English a great boost — and I've decided to spend the half-million pesetas (my share of the grand prize) on my own promotional efforts for the book.

Of course, my share would have been twice that if the judges hadn't declared a tie — but I'm actually pleased to be sharing with James Stevens-Arce, who is a very fine author. More than that, though — and this is an incredible coincidence, considering that he lives in Puerto Rico, thousands of kilometers from me, and that the UPC competition drew submissions in four languages from all over the word — Jim is my friend. We first met at the World Science Fiction Convention in Orlando, Florida, in 1991, and kept in contact through letters after that. It's terrific to share this prize with him, and I'm sure he would join in me in thanking the judges.

Robert J. Sawyer is Canada's only native-born full-time science-fiction writer; he lives just north of Toronto. Rob's novels include Golden Fleece, Far-Seer, End of an Era, Starplex, and Illegal Alien. In addition to the UPC Award and the Nebula, he has also won the top SF awards in Canada ("the Aurora"), Japan ("the Seiun"), and France ("Le Grand Prix de l'Imaginaire"). For more information, visit his comprehensive web site at www.sfwriter.com.

More Good Reading

Press release about Rob's 1998 Premio UPC de Ciencia Ficción win
Press release about Rob's 1997 Premio UPC de Ciencia Ficción win
Rob's other awards and honors
More about Factoring Humanity
More about Frameshift
Press Backgrounder: SF Awards

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