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

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Sawyer's Picks:
Recommended Science Fiction

by Robert J. Sawyer

First published in the May 1998 issue of Quill & Quire, Canada's publishing trade journal

Copyright © 1998 by Robert J. Sawyer
All Rights Reserved

Everybody has an opinion about science fiction — and often the most vocal opinions are from those who've never read any. Well, here are some titles I — as a full-time SF writer, a life-long SF reader, and a former employee of Bakka, Toronto's SF specialty store — would not hesitate to recommend for any store's SF section.

First up is Gateway (Del Rey, 1977) by Frederik Pohl. Now twenty-one years old but still in print, this book, told largely as psychoanalytic sessions between a man and his computer therapist, is, in my opinion, the finest SF novel ever written. It's infinitely more human than anything ever penned by Arthur C. Clarke or Isaac Asimov, but just as mind-expanding.

Another spectacular, but quite different, novel is Shadow of Ashland (Forge, 1996) by Toronto's Terence M. Green. This quiet little time-travel story is what Carol Shields might have written had she been an SF writer — it's as much a family memoir as it is a fantastic voyage.

When I was young, there was a subgenre known as "SF juveniles." All the masters — Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, and especially Robert A. Heinlein — wrote such books, aimed at bright teenagers. These days, there's very little SF for that age group, except for Star Trek and Star Wars tie-ins, but Ender's Game (Tor, 1985) by Orson Scott Card, winner of both the Hugo Award (SF's international people's choice award) and the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America's Nebula Award (the "academy award" of SF), is the perfect book to give to someone you're trying to wean off of movies and TV and get into real reading.

Jack McDevitt's Ancient Shores (HarperPrism, 1996), a nominee for the Nebula Award, is my favorite SF novel of the last couple of years. If you think the word "charming" can't be applied to science fiction, think again. This tale of an alien sail boat found buried on Native American land in North Dakota is enthralling from first page to last.

The hardest row for any writer to hoe is that of first novelist. The very best first SF novel I've read in the last decade is Expendable (Avon, 1997) by James Alan Gardner of Kitchener, Ontario. Think of it as The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy meets Star Trek, a book that at once is both very funny and a real thought-provoker, all told in lyrical, literate prose.

Short fiction has always been the real proving ground for SF — the place where new authors and new stylistic techniques first appear. Every bookstore should carry the two "Year's Best" collections the field produces: Gardner Dozois's massive trade paperback Year's Best Science Fiction (St. Martin's Press), now in its fifteenth year, and David G. Hartwell's mass-market original Year's Best SF (HarperPrism), now in its third year. The Dozois tends toward the literarily experimental; the Hartwell toward traditional SF storytelling.

Speaking of short fiction, the collection This is the Year Zero (Pottersfield, 1998) by Andrew Weiner of Toronto has just been published. Weiner is Canada's most-accomplished SF short-story writer, and this long-overdue second helping of his soft, psychological tales (the first, Distant Signals [Tesseract Books, 1989], is also still in print) is the perfect volume to give to adults who have never tried SF before and think it's nothing but spaceships and aliens.

Finally, let's not forget Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale (McClelland and Stewart, 1985). Booksellers, do the SF world a favour: Take a few copies of this feminist dystopia out of the CanLit section and shelve it with the science fiction where it belongs. Not only was it a finalist for the Nebula Award, but it won the Arthur C. Clarke Award — Britain's top prize in SF — for best science fiction novel of the year.

Robert J. Sawyer's novel Frameshift (Tor) is a current finalist for the Hugo Award; his The Terminal Experiment (HarperPrism) won the Nebula Award for Best Novel of 1995. His tenth novel, Factoring Humanity, will be published by Tor in June.

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