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Wednesday Apr 20, 2016 15:38

Robert J. Sawyer

Two nights ago, I went to see Robert J. Sawyer - yes, THE Robert J. Sawyer, the legend of Science Fiction that happens to be Canadian, and born in Ottawa - presenting his new book Quantum Night at the Ottawa Writer's Festival.

You could immediately tell that he has being doing this for a long time. His reading of the beginning of Quantum Night was excellent, almost theatrical, and all his answers to both the moderator and the audience were informative and entertaining at the same time.

I’m a bit ashamed to say that I discovered him only recently, during my research for The Athena Complex, when I stumbled onto his World Wide Web trilogy. I literally devoured it – easily one of the best idea stories I have read, ever - but what surprised me the most is how much in depth he explains the science that plays a part in the books.

In the narrative, Sawyer goes out of his way to explain even obscure theories like Julian Jaynes’ Origin of Consciousness, or objectively complex ones, like Games Theory, and I was curious what was his rational to decide to do that. My curiosity peaked even more after the two books I read just after Sawyer’s trilogy, one from a more recently established author – Zeroes by Chuck Wendig – and the debut novel Lightless by C.A. Higgins.

The science in those two books is just in service to the story and the characters, and it’s just enough to give the reader a sense that the writer knows what he or she is talking about. And that seems to be the trend these days: action, action, action all the time, never slow down the narrative with explanations.

That left me in a bit of a pickle about what to do with my book, The Athena Complex. I’ve been trying to keep the science at a minimum, but maybe I didn’t need to. So I decided to ask Sawyer.

When the moderator opened the floor to questions, I raised my hand and asked what his reason was for such exhaustive explanations. He launched in a staunch defense of science (one of a few very entertaining and on point tirades to which he treated us to throughout the evening) with which I agreed wholeheartedly – I’m a physics graduate that loves math after all - but that didn’t really help me figure out my dilemma.

So when it came my turn to have Quantum Night signed, I pressed on and asked him straight out. How much science can I put in my book? Wouldn’t too much hinder my chance of publication as a first time author?

His answer was almost obvious in his simplicity: as much as I want. You’ll always find someone that thinks is too much and someone else that wants more. He wished me luck for my career, we shook hands and I was on my way, ruminating on that nugget of wisdom.

After a good night of sleep, I still think that I won’t be able to get away to that kind of technical depth as a debut author, but it helped me not to worry about it too much. Just like for any other aspect of my book, beauty is going to be in the eye of the beholder (a.k.a. the agent that one day will sign me).  


Speaking of agents, I got a form rejection for The Paradox of Deception from Joshua Bilmes (well, his assistant Ben, really). Is it once again because of its length, even if I brought it down to “only” 180.000 words? I’ll probably never known...

I still haven’t heard from Gollancz. On their site, the last comment by a staff member was on March 22nd, saying that they were half way through the pile. Angry Robots hasn’t replied me either.


Chimes by Anna Smaill, about 30% in. Wow, incredible world building right at the crossroads of literary fiction, apocalyptic science fiction and magic realism. If it continues like this, I’m prepared to be blown away.