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

SFWRITER.COM > About Rob > Real-Time Conference

Real-Time Conference with

Robert J. Sawyer

on CompuServe Science Fiction and Fantasy Literature TWO Forum
held Sunday, November 9, 1997, beginning at 3:00 p.m. Eastern Time

Robert J. Sawyer won the 1995 Nebula Award for Best Novel of the Year (for The Terminal Experiment). His other novels include Golden Fleece, End of an Era (which won Japan's Seiun Award for Best Foreign Novel of the Year), Starplex (a Hugo and Nebula Award finalist), Frameshift, the just-released Illegal Alien, and his popular "Quintaglio Ascension" trilogy: Far-Seer, Fossil Hunter, and Foreigner. He lives just north of Toronto, Canada, with his wife, Carolyn Clink.

Philip: Hello? Anyone at home <big grin>?

ROBERT J. SAWYER: Hi, Phil. Looks like you're the first one here. Thanks for coming by! What time is it where you are?

Philip: Hi Rob! I didn't want to miss this one like I did with Jeff Carver's. It's 8pm over here.

ROBERT J. SAWYER: Glad you could make it! It's 3:00 in the afternoon here — and a beautiful afternoon it is, too. My wife is out at her poetry writing workshop.

Philip: Lousy, damp night over here.

ROBERT J. SAWYER: Sorry to hear that. Toronto in the fall is usually crisp and cool, but rarely damp. Do I remember correctly that you're in London?

Philip: Nah, this is Londonderry, Northern Ireland.

ROBERT J. SAWYER: Right, Londonderry! A brain malfunction there for a second.

Philip: I'm in the thick of reading your novels, about halfway through Starplex at the moment.

ROBERT J. SAWYER: I'm glad you're enjoying my books. Starplex and End of an Era are actually somewhat similar: big ideas, big explanations for big puzzles. You'll find The Terminal Experiment and Frameshift different, I think.

Martin: Hi, Rob.

ROBERT J. SAWYER: Martin Crumpton, as I live and breathe! Welcome, my friend!

Philip: Yeah, End of an Era was a fun read, 'specially as I'm a certified time-travel fan. And as a hard SF/space opera fan, I'm also finding Starplex riveting reading. . . . Hi Martin!

Martin: It's a pleasure to be here.

ROBERT J. SAWYER: I'd like to do another book like ERA or Starplex at some point. I actually think my Sherlock Holmes story "You See But You Do Not Observe" falls into the same big-idea / wild-explanation category. . . . Martin, howzit going?

Martin: I'm writing hard, Rob. <grin>

ROBERT J. SAWYER: Martin, keep it up! (The writing, I mean <grin>.)

Philip: Rob, do you have a deliberate policy of making each novel very different in theme to the previous one?

ROBERT J. SAWYER: Phil, yes. Obviously, the biggest SF writer in Canada — maybe even the world — is William Gibson, and I really think he's been pigeonholed since Neuromancer. So I've tried hard to stay nimble and do different things each time. Illegal Alien, for instance, is unlike anything I've done before — it's a courtroom drama with an extraterrestrial defendant. Lots of fun.

Philip: Rob, I've long since downloaded your short stuff from CompuServe. It's in the Robert Sawyer subdirectory of my huge main SFlit directory on my computer.

ROBERT J. SAWYER: Phil, thanks! . . . Bancroft, thanks for joining us! Welcome!

Bancroft: Rob, nice to be here.

ROBERT J. SAWYER: I really like doing short fiction, but find it very difficult — it's much harder for me than novel writing is. . . . Bancroft, I see you're a hard-SF fan (just peeked at your CompuServe profile). Glad to have you here!

Philip: Rob, I understand what you mean about short fiction being harder. It has to have a big punch or twist in the ending, and completely different pacing and construction. Hi Bancroft!

Bancroft: Hi Phil.

ROBERT J. SAWYER: That's right, Phil. I also find it hard to write on a small canvas; my natural tendency is toward big sprawling stories. I actually did my first signing for Illegal Alien yesterday. It's a treat to finally be able to hold the book in my hands. This one was a long time coming; Ace has very long lead times. Illegal Alien was actually written before Frameshift.

Martin: Rob: Serious question. Did you have a mentor? What value would you place on a mentor for someone seriously interested in writing?

ROBERT J. SAWYER: Good question, Martin. In a way, I did. Back around 1987, I showed, with great trepidation, one of my early efforts to another SF writer, Terence M. Green. Terry pointed out problems that no one else had ever mentioned. The mentoring process didn't last very long — really, all it took was one swift kick in the literary butt to get me going in the right direction. But having someone who had no vested interest in saying either nice or nasty things assess my work was a huge boost.

Philip: Rob — I just got a boxload of books from Andromeda Bookshop, in Birmingham, UK. A couple of anthologies containing short stories by you: Free Space and Return of the Dinosaurs.

ROBERT J. SAWYER: Phil, the story in Free Space is one of my best. I regret to say that the story in Return of the Dinosaurs is perhaps a minor effort, although the reviewer in Tangent spoke kindly of it. . . . Martin, are you working with someone now? You are very talented, but I know how hard it is to make progress in this game.

Martin: That's enlightening. My problem is I'm lazy  — I need kicking. I work best under pressure, but it's difficult to find a mentor when it's all done virtually, you know?

ROBERT J. SAWYER: Hi, Martin. I think a face-to-face mentor is best, if you can find one. As for laziness, that's the one reason I can think of for joining a writing group — it forces deadlines upon you. My wife writes poetry, and she always finishes a poem just in time for the next meeting of her workshop.

Martin: Exactly. My problem — or, at least, one of my problems, is that England is kind of provincial, and finding a Name author locally is impossible — and since I work away from home . . .. Logistically it's impossible.

Philip: Rob — I'd say that "Forever" from Return of the Dinosaurs is a nice little story. Is it supposed to be an alternate timeline, or just a story pointing out that some species of dinosaur might have lived after the K/T boundary?

ROBERT J. SAWYER: "Forever" isn't necessarily an alternate time line, but you'll note that the paleontologist quoted at the beginning is Jacob H. Coin, the same fellow whose alternate timelines/careers I wrote about in my story "Lost in the Mail." So it could be an alternate timeline, but I really do think we don't know enough about the K/T event to say that dinosaurs absolutely became extinct then. I wouldn't be surprised at all to learn that some had survived for another few million years. . . . I sympathize, Martin. Toronto's got a really great SF community. Lots of other writers, at various stages of their careers. It's helped me a lot emotionally over the years. (This profession continues to have its ups and downs <sigh>.)

Philip: Rob — I believe that some did survive after the K/T, but they'd been dying out long before then anyway.

ROBERT J. SAWYER: Yes, I suspect the decline was a little more gradual than the eight minutes I portray in End of an Era <grin>. . . . Carl, welcome! Good to see you here.

Carl: I'm sorta here.

ROBERT J. SAWYER: Phil, I have written some dinosaur-related stories I'm quite proud of, especially "Just Like Old Times," which won both an Aurora and an Arthur Ellis Award. The latter is the Canadian award for crime fiction.

Philip: Rob — I haven't got as far as reading any of the Quintaglio books yet. I gather they are an alternative dinosaurian timeline?

ROBERT J. SAWYER: Carl — sorta? Are you slipping in and out of reality <grin>. . . . Phil, actually no. The Quintaglio books are set in our timeline, but deal with the descendants of fauna transplanted from Earth to another planet 65 million years ago.

Philip: Rob — Not many authors have characters who cause the Great Extinction <big grin>.

ROBERT J. SAWYER: Phil, that's true.

Philip: The Quintaglio books sound really interesting. I guess you've figured that I'm fond of alternate timelines <grin>.

ROBERT J. SAWYER: Phil, the Quintaglio books are a lot of fun; I really enjoyed the two years I spent building and writing in that universe.

Carl: I'm in several realities each hour of every day.

ROBERT J. SAWYER: Carl, ahhh. Well, glad to have you with us, if even only partially so!

Carl: Thank you, it's good to be here.

ROBERT J. SAWYER: Marilyn, hi! It was a real treat meeting you at the Worldcon in San Antonio!

Bancroft: Hi, WizMar!

Martin: Marilyn: I love you.

Marilyn: Robert: <smile> Yes, good to meet you in person. . . . Martin, awww... you say that to all the WizOps!

Philip: Hi Marilyn. And Hi! to you too Carl (nearly forgot about you while I was yakking <grin>.

Martin: Marilyn: (Just thought I'd say that) . . . How does the future look for you, Rob? Will you, as seems likely, continue to make your living from writing? I sincerely hope so.

ROBERT J. SAWYER: Hi, Martin. Well, you know I've had some ups and downs — every writer does. That really is true; it just never ends. Many of my best friends are writers, and we spend a lot of time providing emotional support to each other; it's amazing what this field can do to your self-respect and mental equilibrium. That said, things are going really really well right now. I've got a new two-book contract with Tor, and they've more than doubled my advances. So, money is no problem these days, and I seem to be finding a growing audience.

Carl: Ah, $$advances!!

ROBERT J. SAWYER: But, I'll tell you, if you don't enter this field with a splash, the way, say William Gibson did in the mid-1980s or Neal Stephenson did in the mid-1990s, it is a very slow, incremental process to build some name recognition.

Martin: Rob: Pleased to hear that. In case I haven't mentioned it before, you're a real gentleman and pleasure to know in person. Talented too.... <smile>

ROBERT J. SAWYER: Thanks, Martin! One thing I have learned is that in this field, the nice guys do finish first. There's no need to be mean or competitive. The biggest thing a lot of beginning writers have to realize (not you, of course) is that one person's success is not at the expense of someone else; the arts are not a zero-sum game.

Philip: Rob — unless you're real lucky, I guess writing's not exactly a lucrative day-time job.

ROBERT J. SAWYER: Phil, I'm doing fine financially, and writing is all I do. Indeed, my wife quit her job five months ago to come work full-time as my assistant. I'm lucky in that I've got an aggressive agent, lots of foreign editions earning money, and have attracted some interest from film companies. But, yes, I understand how rare it is, and I'm grateful beyond words for the luck I've had. I'd say most of the SF novelists I know make under $20,000 a year — and no one in this field makes a million dollars a year. But, I'm comfortable — and that's really all I want: comfort, and some security for my wife's and my old age.

Philip: Good on yer, Rob! It's great to see you making a living at something you obviously enjoy doing.

ROBERT J. SAWYER: Thanks, Phil. And that's the key: I tell everyone I know that the only reason to pursue a career in writing is if you can't imagine doing anything else that would make you happy, because anything else is easier and more secure than writing is.

Carl: And when you really enjoy what you do, you can't really call it work.

ROBERT J. SAWYER: Carl, well said! I really don't think of it as work — I think of it as my life, and I enjoy it most of the time <grin>.

Marilyn: Robert, there's one thing I've noted in reading your material, which is that although you don't pull any punches with the level of science you use, the science, although integral to the story, doesn't intrude.

ROBERT J. SAWYER: Hi, Marilyn. Thanks! Me, I absolutely love science — I'm with Fred Pohl, who says science is the greatest spectator sport in the world. But I try to understand that science in and of itself doesn't make a story. The parts that I have to edit back the most are the scientific explanations and discussions in my books. They usually run two, three, or even four times as long in first draft as they end up being in the final version.

Philip: Rob — Marilyn's absolutely right about the unobtrusiveness of the science in your books. Some other hard SF authors beat you over the head with it, and make their novels more like dry technical manuals that fiction.

Martin: That's a point; I can't write hard SF because I don't have the grounding. I concentrate on the social effects, which may be considered a cop-out. What's your background in science, Rob? I say that in view of Starplex, which is pretty hard, by the way.

ROBERT J. SAWYER: I wanted to be a scientist (paleontologist) right up to the end of high school, but then I copped out and decided to study broadcasting instead. The only science I've studied at university level is psychology (and you can see the impacts of that in my novels Foreinger, Terminal Experiment, and the upcoming Factoring Humanity). . . . Phil, thanks! I like to think that I may not have the scientific expertise of, say, Robert L. Forward, but that I can wrap up science in slightly more digestible fictional packages <grin>. . . . Martin, you don't know how long I labored to get the science right in Starplex! That was real work for me — but it was fascinating. I'm lucky enough to know some real scientists who will give me a hand from time to time (Starplex is dedicated to one of them, Dr. Ariel Reich).

Carl: Nice to have a friend in the business, so to speak.

Philip: Rob — some hard-SF science authors and readers forget that it's the story that's important. The science creates the believable backdrop, but that's what it is: the background, or possibly even the driving force behind the story, but not the entire story.

ROBERT J. SAWYER: Right now, I'm trying to come up with a short story set on Dune, for an anthology I've been invited into. Hard work, that. I've never had so many constraints on what I can and can't do. . . . Carl, it sure is! . . . Phil, right you are! It's fiction first, science second, even if we do normally put the words in the opposite order.

Marilyn: Robert, working in a universe not your own can be the toughest constraint of all!

ROBERT J. SAWYER: It can, although I must confess to being one of those generally against the concept of working in other people's universes. It's tough not because it's challenging; rather, it's tough because of the limits imposed by the licensing agreement.

Philip: Rob — you're doing a story in the Dune universe? Tell us more!

ROBERT J. SAWYER: Frank Herbert's son Brian and Edward E. Kramer are producing an anthology of stories set on Dune; I've been invited to contribute, and have been reimmersing myself in the Dune books to come up with something.

Martin: How much do you consider it important to get the science right? For instance, I'm working on a novelette that propounds that the Universe began due to a Mobius curve — rubbish, obviously — but not entirely disprovable. At what point does real science dictate what, say, readers of Analog, will suspend disbelief? (Loaded question, clearly)

ROBERT J. SAWYER: "Not entirely disprovable" is an ideal criterion. Yes, Analog readers can be picky (boy, can they ever!), but there is a wider SF reading audience. After all, once you put either faster-than-light travel into a story, or time travel, you're throwing rigorous science out the window, anyway. At the very least, I want it to be a real challenge for someone to disprove some of my whoppers <grin>.

Martin: Nice answer. <grin> I guess it's down to sheer nerve or self-confidence, eh?

ROBERT J. SAWYER: That's right. Be audacious, be daring, and if someone doesn't like it, say, "I'm sorry it went over your head" <grin>.

Martin: It's "under your head" that worries me. <grin>

Marilyn: Seems to me that whatever your speculation from current science is, the chief criteria would be internal consistency for the duration of the story.

ROBERT J. SAWYER: Marilyn, that's exactly right. In some ways, every SF story is a self-contained alternative universe; as long as it works well and predictably according to its own stated rules, it satisfies me as a reader.

Philip: Rob — I have all the Dune books bar Chapterhouse. It'll be interesting to see Dune stories by writers other than Herbert.

ROBERT J. SAWYER: Phil, actually Chapterhouse has been declared verboten; we're only aloud to reference the first three books for this project.

Philip: Rob — I like hard SF, but I wouldn't let extremely rigid science get in the way of a good story. Most times it's the getting there and the actions and consequences that are more important than the "how" you got there.

Jamie: Hiya

ROBERT J. SAWYER: Welcome, Jamie!

Carl: Personally, I believe everything I read — for the duration, at least!

ROBERT J. SAWYER: Phil, exactly right. SF is an experimental laboratory, but principally for testing the human condition under circumstances we can't replicate in real life. It's thought experiments in psychology as much as anything else.

Bancroft: Rob, that would apply to much of literature, I think...

ROBERT J. SAWYER: Bancroft, sort of — except you can really find out if, say, Romeo's reactions are valid; it's much harder — much more experimental — to find out if Robinette Broadhead's (in my favorite SF novel, Gateway) are. . . . By the way, I had two good pieces of news this week.

Marilyn: <interested look>

ROBERT J. SAWYER: The first is that Illegal Alien has been selected as the "Made in Canada" fiction title for January 1998 by the Chapters chain, Canada's largest books retailer. Only one novel is selected a month and it's promoted on a special display as you enter the store (and the book is discounted 20% for the entire month). It should be a real boost to sales.

Martin: Rob: Continue (I like success stories).

Marilyn: Rob, that's great! And the second?

Philip: Rob — I have the first three volumes of Dune in a huge hardback omnibus. Gorgeous. Why are the other three volumes off-limits?

ROBERT J. SAWYER: Phil, I'm not exactly sure why they are off limits — which is why I don't like working in other universes; the arbitrary nature of the rules. (I had an idea for a Star Trek novel, but was told that three of my elements — the Organians, Sybok, and Arex — were all off-limits.) . . . Marilyn, the second is this: I will be the featured author for the month of July 1998 on the books page of USA Today Online, which has — wait for it — 35 million hits a day.

Martin: Couldn't happen to a nicer bloke.

ROBERT J. SAWYER: This coincides with the release of my tenth novel, Factoring Humanity, from Tor. I was stunned when I got contacted for this. It'll be a month-long promotion. Part of it will involve readers writing an SF story with me as their guide. . . . Martin, thanks!

Carl: Another 'overnight' success???

Marilyn: Rob, that's SOME promotion!

ROBERT J. SAWYER: Marilyn, I know. I'm still walking around in a daze.

Marilyn: Rob, <grin> between the Auroras and this....!

Philip: Rob — you say you like Fred Pohl (writing or personally?). I thought Mining the Oort was a brilliant novel, as were Man Plus and the sequel (prequel?).

ROBERT J. SAWYER: Phil, I like Fred fine as a human being. Man Plus is my second-favorite Pohl novel.

George: What is an Arex element?

ROBERT J. SAWYER: Hi, George. Arex was the three-armed navigator from the planet Edos in the animated Star Trek series; voice by James Doohan. One of my favorite Trek characters.

Philip: Rob — I agree with you about writing in someone else's universe. You no longer have ultimate say/control. Much safer sticking to your own creations

ROBERT J. SAWYER: Phil, exactly! But I've had great luck working on projects Ed Kramer has been involved with as editor, and I don't want to let him down.

Philip: Rob — what's your favourite Pohl novel? Indeed, what would be your favourite half dozen SF novels overall?

ROBERT J. SAWYER: Phil, my favorite SF novels, in no particular order are: Gateway by Frederik Pohl; The Fountains of Paradise by Arthur C. Clarke; Inherit the Stars by James P. Hogan; Needle by Hal Clement; Monkey Planet by Pierre Boulle. My favorite SF short stories are "Tableau" by James White; "With Folded Hands" by Jack Williamson; "Barking Dogs" by Terence M. Green. . . . Marilyn, yes, it's been a great week! Another bit of good news of recent vintage: Canadian TV viewers will now get to see me every second Friday in prime-time. The Canadian version of The Discovery Channel has hired me to present a view of life in the future called "2020 Vision". It'll air as a segment on their prime-time science-news series "@discovery.ca" (yes, that looks like an Internet domain, but it's really the title of the Canadian Discovery Channel's highest-rated show.)

Bancroft: Rob, you are going to get some writing done, I hope... <grin>

ROBERT J. SAWYER: Brancoft, it HAS been rough. My wife and I are escaping to my parents' vacation home on a lake in upstate New York for two weeks next month, just so I can get away from all the distractions and phone calls.

Martin: With great regret,I have to leave to the conference (long day tomorrow). As always, Rob, it's a pleasure to 'meet' you — you're a damned fine fellow and a great author. Until next time?

ROBERT J. SAWYER: Martin, see you! Many thanks for dropping by, my friend!

Philip: Rob — that's a cracking selection. I'm familiar with all the novels except Needle, although I've read and enjoyed other books by Clement. "With Folded Hands" is the only one of the stories I've read, and it's a corker; Williamson is another author I like. His 1930s story "The Moon Era" is one of my all-time favourites.

Martin: A real pleasure, Rob. Continued success to you.

ROBERT J. SAWYER: Thanks, Martin! . . . Phil, Neelde was also published under the bland title From Outer Space, so you may have seen it under that name. It's really lots of fun.

Philip: Rob — nope, I definitely haven't read Needle, under any other name.

Martin: BFN, folks.

Philip: Bye Martin!

Bancroft: Bye Martin!

George: I've got to go, too.

ROBERT J. SAWYER: Buy Martin when he's high! Sell when low.

Marilyn: G'night, Martin...!

ROBERT J. SAWYER: George, thanks for dropping by!

Philip: G'night, George.

ROBERT J. SAWYER: Well, it's been an hour, folks. Maybe we should be wrapping up? Any final questions?

Marilyn: Your choice Rob! <smile> We'll stay as long as you want to chat!

Bancroft: I have to go anyway — new BBC adaptation of "Tom Jones" in about one minute <grin>.

ROBERT J. SAWYER: Bancroft, enjoy! Thanks for stopping by!

Philip: Yeah, Rob, I'm in no hurry to go. Bye, Bancroft!

Bancroft: Nice chatting with you, Rob! ttfn, all.

Marilyn: Rob, as you know, Harry (my husband) really enjoyed the Quintaglios — do you think you'll ever return to them?

ROBERT J. SAWYER: Hi, Marilyn. This is where publishing realities intervene. The books did well for Ace, but are now all out-of-print. I'd love to write more about them at some point, but I'd need either Ace or another publisher to reissue them first, I think. I've suggested to Ace that they do them as a single omnibus volume (it would be about the same size as the Dozois's Year's Best). We'll see.

Marilyn: Rob, I hope they do — makes it hard to sell your older stuff when it's out of print! <grin>

Philip: Rob — you mentioned earlier that you might do sequels to some of your novels (you mentioned Starplex). Any more thoughts on that?

ROBERT J. SAWYER: Phil, at the moment, I've no plans to write a sequel. Starplex certainly has room for one. If it had actually won the Hugo, instead of just being nominated for it, I'd say a sequel would have definitely happened. Now, I have to wait and see what level of long-term commitment Ace has to the book. Marilyn, oh, I know! There's nothing more frustrating for an author than out of print books!

Philip: Rob — I agree totally that there's definitely room for more sequels to Starplex. Maybe they'll grow to rival Trek or B5. I really do hope you'll do at least one (or more) sequel.

Marilyn: Rob, here's a serious "what if" — what revolution would have to take place in the book industry so that books wouldn't go out of print, but new books would get their proper push?

ROBERT J. SAWYER: My first priority is to get Golden Fleece back into print; it's the only one that I really think didn't get anywhere close to the exposure/attention it deserved. Warner did a terrible job on it, as they did on just about every book they published back then. Marilyn, very good question! Roger MacBride Allen and I have been chatting about it a bit.

Marilyn: Rob, yes, I remember trying to get Golden Fleece when you and I first met over in the CompuServe WordStar Forum!

ROBERT J. SAWYER: I'm not sure what the solution is. I don't even mind books going out of print, if you could count on them being re-released every five or even ten years (the way Disney re-releases its movies).

Marilyn: Robert, now, that would work, too! <grin> Get whole new generations of readers hooked!

ROBERT J. SAWYER: Printing-on-demand is one technology Roger and I have discussed, but the problem is, is it really better for an author to sell a thousand copies a year steadily rather than to have the book out of print, and then, with pent-up demand and a promotional push, sell twenty thousand when it's re-released? I don't know. I'd love for the Web to provide a solution, too. Could I sell more downloads of Frameshift at $2.50 a copy (which is my royalty on the printed hardcover) than I could at $25 in the bookstores? I don't know. I've also talked with Edo van Belkom about becoming a distributor. When a new book is published, buy up 1,000 hardcovers, or 10,000 paperbacks, and sell them over the years. If the warehousing problem could be solved, and you could set up a consortium of authors who would be willing to risk the books never selling, it might give all the benefits of traditional publishing plus much longer availability to readers.

Marilyn: <chuckle> I've been in book retailing (because I like it) for almost 20 years, and I remember mentioning printing on demand in the late 70s and getting laughed at!

ROBERT J. SAWYER: You were a visionary, Marilyn. We visionaries are always ridiculed in our own time <grin>.

Philip: Rob — I'm getting near the end of Starplex, and enjoying every minute. I wanna sequel! <very big grin>

Marilyn: I think the Web is one possibility — on the other hand, one of the things which Harry and I have discussed at length is concern over written material becoming available only to people with high tech. Even micro-film is readable with the human eye + a simple magnifying glass, but magnetic media or CDs are not.

ROBERT J. SAWYER: Thanks, Phil! Marilyn, yes, I worry about it.

Marilyn: Robert, aye, now the warehousing — and storage — is a real problem, especially if the paperbacks aren't printed on acid-free paper.

ROBERT J. SAWYER: I think the Library of Congress should require acid-free publication, and hard-copy deposit, of anything that's going to be labeled a "book" (in Ontario, it would be easy to make this a law; books are taxed less than other merchandise, and the cost of producing a few bound copies for library deposit would be minuscule compared to the savings). A "literary-heritage bill" could tax all non-acid-free printing; it would change overnight the balance of what's printed in archivable quality versus what isn't.

Marilyn: Definitely! (says the genealogist's daughter.)

Philip: Rob — printing on demand? I dream of the day we can walk into a bookshop, order a book (that isn't on the shelves), wait a couple of minutes while a machine under the cashier's desk prints and binds the book, and you get it in your hand while it's still warm. No such thing as out of print <grin>

Marilyn: Phil, that's MY dream as well — you know I hate disappointing customers!

ROBERT J. SAWYER: My theory, Phil, is that the big book superstores here in North America, at least, are ramping up for that. That's the real reason they've got coffee shops right in the stores; so that people will have a place to linger while the on-demand printing is done.

Marilyn: Robert, you were saying about technology and writing availability when I'm afraid I interrupted you.

ROBERT J. SAWYER: Hi, Marilyn. That's okay; I think I made my point — which is that some archival, human-readable copies should be required to be produced. The other issue, on technology, should be some level of true standardization in recording formats. Again, the government could mandate this. The reason color TV took so long to be introduced was because the government insisted that whatever color system was adopted be backwards compatible with black-and-white, so that all the "readers" for TV out there would still be able to access the new programming, and all the old programming would still be accessible. Unfortunately, the government has moved away from that kind of thinking; we now have landfill sites full of old beta videotapes and 5.25" disks . . .

Philip: Marilyn, it's my dream too. I'm really glad I was able to get all Rob's books directly from him, as several of them are out of print.

Marilyn: Not to mention punched paper tapes! (My Dad's military service records were lost this way!)

ROBERT J. SAWYER: Yes, indeed!

Philip: Rob — what's the technology used by the big stores for the on-demand printing?

Marilyn: Phil, that was MY next question! <grin>

Philip: Marilyn — it's empathy m'dear <big grin>

ROBERT J. SAWYER: Phil, the technology doesn't exist yet. My point is that the retail environment that they are promoting — bookstores with comfy couches and coffee shops — is READY for the day when on-demand printing becomes available. It won't be hard to introduce, because the customers are already used to hanging around in bookshops having a quiet cup of coffee . . . while the book is being printed and bound for them.

Marilyn: Robert, they are getting there, though — I was talking to a Xerox rep who now has a printer/copier... which prints 20 copies a minutes, can do duplexing on demand, and some (currently limited) binding.

ROBERT J. SAWYER: Oh, yes, Xerox has some amazing stuff in their Docutech line, for instance. Every year, I go to a big printing-industry trade show with my wife (that's her professional area) and am stunned by what's being produced.

Marilyn: It takes stuff directly from the computer to do this. (And the DC-220 is a mere $10,000 — not even the high-end league like the Docutech stuff, which is truly amazing.

ROBERT J. SAWYER: Roger MacBride Allen can do great on-demand printing of books right now in his own home; the only problem is speed.

Philip: Marilyn — I'm dreaming of the day when they can hand me something totally indistinguishable from a real novel, rather than a Xeroxed copy

ROBERT J. SAWYER: Phil, it'll happen, I'm sure.

Marilyn: Phil: <grin> Well, look at the strides color printers have made in the last couple of years.

ROBERT J. SAWYER: Anyway, guys, it's coming up on an hour and a half; I probably should be trundling off.

Marilyn: Rob, yeah, get back to writing the stuff for us to read! <grin>

ROBERT J. SAWYER: I will! (I do want to write another thousand words today . . .) Thanks, Carl, Phil, and Marilyn! See you all online!

Marilyn: See you around!


Philip: Rob — it's been a pleasure talking to you. I'll let you know what I think of the other books when I've finished them. See you soon!

ROBERT J. SAWYER: Thanks, Phil! Talk to you soon! 'Bye, all!

Carl: Take care, sir. I enjoyed our little chat!

ROBERT J. SAWYER: Thanks, Carl! Bye-bye!

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