An Intriguing Interview with Science Fiction Author ROBERT J. SAWYER


sawyerWelcome to Readers Entertainment, Robert. Tell our readers a bit about yourself. Where you’re from, where you live? Is writing your full-time job?

I was born in Canada’s capital city of Ottawa in 1960, and have lived most of my life in its largest, Toronto. And, yes, I’m a full-time writer.

How long have you been writing?

I’m lucky enough to have been a full-time freelance writer since 1984 — over a third of a century now!

Briefly describe your writing day.

My workspace is in my living room, facing windows and my fireplace; it’s the most comfortable spot in my home. I’m not a morning person; I get up about 10:00 a.m., and deal with the day’s business stuff before lunch, then get on to my actual writing around 2:00 in the afternoon. I strive to get 2,000 words done in a day; if I get that done by 5:00 p.m., great — the evening is mine! But if it takes until midnight, well, then, I keep going until I reach my goal.

Tell us about your latest release?

Quantum Night is a novel about an experimental psychologist who develops a technique for flawlessly identifying psychopaths — that is, people utterly devoid of empathy — and, in the process, discovers that he himself may have been a psychopath during a forgotten period of his life twenty years past.

Why did you choose science fiction as your genre? Were you a Trekkie as a kid? Did you love Isaac Asimov?

Well, yes, I was and am a huge fan of the original Star Trek series, and I loved Isaac Asimov when I was young although I find him pretty unreadable today; Arthur C. Clarke holds up much better. But the reason I chose SF as a writer is that it lets me write any kind of story: under the umbrella of SF, I’ve done adventure (End of an Era); courtroom drama (Illegal Alien); noir (Red Planet Blues); thriller (Triggers); romance (Rollback); mystery (Golden Fleece); and young-adult (Far-Seer). No other category gives authors such latitude, or has readers loyal enough to stay with you over such a wide range of storytelling forms.

Could you share one detail from your current release with readers that they might not find in the book? Perhaps a juicy bit of back-story, or something only you know about a character.

quantumThe last quarter of Quantum Night takes place at the Canadian Light Source, Canada’s national synchrotron — a particle accelerator — in Saskatoon. I was writer-in-residence there, the first such position ever at Canadian science facility and a position created especially for me — in 2009. A lot of the details came out of that, and Jeff Cutler, he of the Hawaiian shirts in the novel, is a real person who works there.

Who has been the most difficult character for you to write? Why?

Caitlin Decter, the main character of my WWW trilogy of WakeWatch, and Wonder. She’s a sixteen-year-old girl; it’s been a long time since I was sixteen and I’ve never been a girl. She’s been blind since birth; I’m fully sighted. And she’s a genius a math, and, as my accountant will tell you, I most certainly am not.

If you could be one of your characters for a day which character would it be? Why?

Seth Jerrison, the president of the United States in my novel Triggers — because he could stop the current madness; he’s a Republican, which I’m not, but he’s an actual, true to the spirit of the Grand Old Party compassionate conservative, not a mad marauder sailing under a false flag.

What was your reaction to Quantum Night turning out to be somewhat prophetic?

Every science-fiction writer hopes to get one right now and then; I was happy in 1995’s The Terminal Experiment to predict that the next Pope, who didn’t start his term until 2005, would take the name Benedict XVI, and I was thrilled in 1999’s FlashForward to accurately predict some future Nobel Prize winners in physics. But, as Ray Bradbury famously said, a big part of the science-fiction writers job is not predicting the future but preventing it, and I’d dearly hoped my story of mindless masses propelling a psychopath into the Oval Office was going to help us keep that scenario from coming true.

It seems many sci-fi writers have an ability to ‘see the future’, whether predicting scientific advances or changes in humanity as a whole. Do you think that comes from world building or the ability to make social commentary within a fictional world?

Not from the world-building, or, for that matter, from the social commentary; both are important aspects of science fiction but the great lesson that writer Kim Stanley Robinson taught me when I interviewed him at the beginning of my career in 1989 was that SF prediction is simply history extrapolated into the future; you must know the past — understand how we got to where we are right now — to plausibly continue a trend into the future.

All writers are readers. Are there any particular authors that have influenced how you write and, if so, how have they influenced you?

Arthur C. Clarke, for his blending of the metaphysical and the rational; Harper Lee and To Kill a Mockingbird for her social commentary in a story that appears to be about something else entirely; David Gerrold for a lot of my prose style; Frederik Pohl for the psychological depth of his characters, most notably in Gateway.

Do you have a secret talent readers would be surprised by?

I’m very fond of the other great apes and have pretty prehensile toes myself; I’m good at picking things up with them and can even do the Vulcan salute with my feet.

Your favorite go-to drink or food when the world goes crazy!

I don’t drink alcohol, but when the feces really hits the ventilator, some whole-milk chocolate milk is the best!

What is the one question you never get ask at interviews, but wish you did? Ask and answer it.

The question: What drives you nuts about other people’s works in your field? And my answer: when people who do write science fiction refuse the label — I’m looking at your Margaret Atwood — and when people who don’t co-opt it; George Lucas’s only work of science fiction is his forgotten film THX-1138Star Wars is nothing but fantasy — a story of knights and mystical powers — and his calling it science fiction has basically left us with no name for the sort of serious, thought-provoking future-based social comment that I — and, yes, Margaret Atwood — write.

Thank you so much for joining our blog today. Readers, below are social media links to learn more about Robert, and by links to grab a copy of his latest release QUANTUM NIGHT.

You can purchase Quantum Night at:

Kindle ebook
Kobo ebook (USA) paperback (Cdn) trade paperback
Chapters/Indigo (Cdn) trade paperback
Barnes&Noble (USA) paperback
Books-a-Million (USA) paperback

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