News News
News Subscription
Dialogue with Sci-Fi Heavy Hitters | Robert J. Sawyer: Go to Chengdu and You Will Meet the Best Sci-Fi Fans in the World
发布时间:2023-05-28 14:48来源:科幻协会

This October, the World Science Fiction Convention (Worldcon) will be held in Chengdu, China. Sci-fi fans and writers from all over the world will gather in Chengdu. The sci-fi festival is upon us. We will launch a special series of interviews named "Dialogue with Sci-Fi Heavy Hitters". Today we talk to Robert J. Sawyer, a renowned Canadian sci-fi writer.


● Robert J. Sawyer gives a video interview

Without any warning, in a split second, everyone in the world falls into a coma at the same time. 40 million people have died in car crashes, plane crashes, surgeries, and other accidents as a result. The global blackout lasts 2 minutes and 17 seconds. During that time, the vast majority of people take a cursory look at their lives in the future.


● A still from FlashForward

It is the setting for the once-popular American sci-fi TV series FlashForward. In the teleplay, it is the Large Hadron Collider started up by CERN in search of the Higgs boson, the "God particle", that leads to the coma.

Less than three years after the show was aired, real-world European scientists announced in 2012 that they had indeed found the Higgs boson. The Higgs Mechanism earned its proposers the 2013 Nobel Prize in Physics, and FlashForward has been hailed by sci-fi fans as a gem.


● The European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) laboratory

The incredible teleplay is based on the eponymous novel by renowned Canadian sci-fi author, Robert J. Sawyer. In an exclusive interview with Red Star News, Sawyer mentions that if he could have seen himself in a “flashforward” 40 years ago, when he was just starting out his career as a full-time writer, attending the 2023 Worldcon in Chengdu, "I would have been imbued with hope and shining happiness much earlier".

This October, Robert J. Sawyer will come to Chengdu for the fifth time and attend the Worldcon in Chengdu for the first time. In January, he specially updated his personal blog with news related to the 2023 Chengdu Worldcon. "I'm really looking forward to it. I miss my old friends very much and would love to meet new ones," he says.


"I'm glad my writing career is coming to a close"

40 years ago, at the age of 23, Sawyer began trying to make a living as a full-time writer. He grew up with a passion for science and an obsession with  dinosaurs and outer space. The main characters of his famous Quintaglio Ascension Trilogy are dinosaurs that are as intelligent as humans.


● Original covers of the Quintaglio Ascension Trilogy by Robert J. Sawyer

But in his first few years of full-time writing, Robert J. Sawyer did not set out to work on sci-fi. He wrote feature articles for magazines in Canada and the United States on topics ranging from computers to personal finance management.

Sawyer burst onto the sci-fi scene in 1988 with the publication of his debut novel, Golden Fleece. It derives its name from the ancient Greek mythology. Jason, a hero of the Black Sea coast, sails to Colchis on a ship called Argo in search of the legendary golden fleece to regain his throne.


In this novel, more than 10,000 earthlings travel on the starship Argo to the distant planet Colchis in search of a new home. During the long interstellar voyage, the human protagonist discovers that the supercomputer controlling the ship is brewing a huge conspiracy, while the Earth has been completely destroyed by nuclear wars.

"In the 1960s, when I was born, the world was still in the shadow of the Cold War and nuclear weapons." Mr. Sawyer says. "You've probably seen this shadow in many sci-fi novels and movies." At present, the shadow of the past has not been completely removed. However, new threats, such as global warming, local wars, energy crisis, and artificial intelligence, have come to us.


● The sci-fi film Dune is set in a world where artificial intelligence has been eliminated

In Sawyer's Golden Fleece, Jason, a commanding AI, wants to control everything, even at the cost of killing humans. In recent news, a Belgian man was encouraged to commit suicide by a chatbot after intensive conversations with it.

Forward-looking people have already scented ominousness. Tech giants have issued a joint open letter calling for a moratorium on training AI systems more powerful than GPT-4. On March 20, UNESCO also called on all governments to implement a global ethical framework without delay.


● Photo by

"I have a senior lawyer friend who believes he will be out of a job within 5 years. The core value of his job is experience and expertise, searching for data and comparing cases to find the best solutions for clients. He charges high fees for these tasks, whereas ChatGPT is free and more efficient." Sawyer says.

Leaving aside the question of whether AI will eventually become self-aware, Sawyer says the real issue is that many people will lose their livelihoods. "I'm glad my writing career is coming to a close," he says.

Sawyer has published 25 novels and a large number of novellas to date. He is one of only eight sci-fi writers in history to win all three of the world’s top Science Fiction awards for best novel of the year: the Hugo, the Nebula, and the John W. Campbell Memorial Award.


● Photos of Sawyer's awards on his website

In addition, he has won several highly prestigious sci-fi awards from China, Japan, France, and Spain. He also has garnered the Aurora Awards of Canada 16 times. In 2007, Sawyer was voted by Chinese readers as the most popular foreign writer at the Galaxy Awards.

Nowadays, the Chinese sci-fi fans’ favorite writer, claims that if ChatGPT were to write a novel in the style of Sawyer, it would be extremely easy, especially since he has written many works for it to refer to.


● Original covers of the Neanderthal Parallax trilogy by Robert J. Sawyer

Despite this, Sawyer is not pessimistic about the future. "Even after the end of World War II, there are still a lot of nuclear warheads on the Earth, but humans are still in control of the situation. Nuclear power provides us with a huge amount of energy. The key to dealing with the nuclear issue is effective control and rational utilization, as well as staying vigilant at all times and in all places."


Digital life is not the direction of human evolution

Visit Robert J. Sawyer's website, and scroll past the book covers of dinosaurs, spaceships, primitive humans, alien stars, and his awards, you will find the following words at the bottom of the homepage:

“The first-ever science-fiction author website, established Wednesday, June 28, 1995, and most recently updated on Thursday, April 6, 2023. You are visitor 1085231.” At the bottom of the page is the website Logo.  Sawyer tells us that an artist friend drew this for him. "Half trilobite, half robot. Cute, right?"


A creature that once lived in the ancient ocean is intertwined with artificial creations of the technological future in a cute and charming way. Life and technology are also almost eternal themes for sci-fi writers.

Robert J. Sawyer's latest sci-fi novel Download released this month also revolves around the two core themes. In the novel, humans have uploaded their consciousness into the meta-universe, opening up an alternative way of life. But suddenly, something happened. Some people vanish forever, and the survivors have to return to the real world.

The inspiration for the novel comes from Sawyer's own feelings during the pandemic. "Before the pandemic, we were free to meet, to gather, to touch each other, to hug loved ones. Then the life we had taken for granted took a big hit and many had to connect online. So I thought, what if one day humans could only survive digitally and never return to the real world? Or what if they were suddenly forced to return to the real world after getting used to digital existence?"


Nor were his feelings confined to this point. "For decades, sci-fi writers have depicted various possible plagues, but when a plaue actually arrived, the world was still unprepared. People never learn from their mistakes, and this hasn't changed for thousands of years." Sawyer tells.

“And one thing hasn't changed too. No matter how much convenience the Internet can provide, how exciting the video games can be, nothing can replace real human connection, laughter and clinking glasses, eye contacts, and soft breathing by the ears. Digital life has never been the direction of human evolution. In this era of rapid advances in AI, it is more vital than ever to appreciate human contribution and value." Sawyer claims.


“Always in motion is the future”

In FlashForward, the teleplay mentioned at the beginning of this article, a small number of people do not see anything while in the coma. When they wake up, they gradually realize that it is probably because they were dead during that time in the future.

Some people give up early because of this, while others choose to fight and create uncertainties for their future.


● A still from FlashForward

Robert J. Sawyer says that he would choose the latter. "When you see hope, there will be hope for the future. When you see danger, try to avoid it. No matter what happens, never give up. More importantly, the uncertain future may be changed, but living in the present and cherishing the present is the most important thing we should do."

“Always in motion is the future,” Yoda tells Luke Skywalker in Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back. Sawyer also claims that he has never been a fatalist "I believe that not only individuals can shape their own destiny, but humanity can shape the future of its civilization.”


● Master Yoda in Star Wars

Nor is he a complete optimist. "The vivid depiction of the collapse of civilization in excellent sci-fi works invariably makes me shudder." Sawyer mentions The Handmaid's Tale, the masterpiece of Margaret Atwood, another well-known Canadian author. A 2017 American TV series based on the novel also made a huge splash after its release. This typical dystopian novel depicts a “future world” where women are tortured and oppressed.

But at least he is more optimistic than his good friend Liu Cixin. "The 'Dark Forest' theory proposed by Liu in the Three-Body Problem is really dark." Sawyer laughs. "Personally, I believe that a race that can survive in the universe for a long time and develop a high-level civilization should uphold peace. In other words, a civilization that believes in goodwill and cooperation will prevail. The same applies to human interaction.”


● A still from The Handmaid's Tale

He is eagerly looking forward to meeting Liu Cixin and other Chinese friends in Chengdu this October. "This pandemic has made me more aware of which friends I still miss and want to see, and which people I want to spend time with. Before the pandemic, I participated in various activities all over the world, being active and busy." Sawyer says. “The pandemic has taught me to do subtraction, to leave this shorter life for those whom I cherish the most."


“The ancient civilization of Chengdu also attracts me”

Robert J. Sawyer, 63, and his wife have no children or pets. He is not afraid of growing old. "My parents lived a long life and were clear-minded until they passed away. They were free of diseases like Alzheimer's. So, I think there is a good chance that I will also age in good health. We've lived in our apartment for more than 20 years, if we could live in it for another 20 years, we'd move to a nursing home."

Compared to the natural course of life, he is sadder about the waning influence of the hard sci-fi genre in North America. "It truly breaks my heart. It breaks my heart so much." Sawyer says.

Derek Künsken, praised by Chinese sci-fi fans as the most hardcore sci-fi writer of the new generation in Canada, receives widespread acclaim for his first sci-fi novel The Quantum Magician upon its release. Künsken visited Chengdu and met Chinese sci-fi fans in 2018.


● Derek Künsken at a meet-and-greet event in Chengdu

Robert Sawyer tells Red Star News that although Künsken's hard sci-fi works are excellent, their actual sales figures are not as good as his fantasy, horror, and thriller novels. "So, he has shifted more towards writing fantasy and horror novels," Sawyer explains. "Because fantasy novels sell better, that's the reality."

That's one reason that Sawyer is particularly bullish about China's sci-fi future. "I have visited China several times and met sci-fi writers and fans who are interested in science and technology and the future they can shape. The sci-fi fans in Chengdu, in particular, are earnest, shy, and enthusiastic." Sawyer asserts. "As a sci-fi writer, I've never had this kind of following for rock stars in any other city. It's flattering and heartwarming."


He often mentions what he has seen and felt in Chengdu to his friends and fans abroad. "I have told them to go to the Worldcon in Chengdu, you will meet the best sci-fi fans in the world!"

In addition to the city's warm, romantic, and sci-fi atmosphere, Robert J. Sawyer is drawn to Chengdu by its rich history. "I'm also interested in archaeology and material remains of ancient civilizations. In Canada, a history of a few hundred years is considered truly long. But when I walked into the Jinsha Site Museum and the Sanxingdui Museum, I saw relics and artifacts dating back thousands of years. It was so fascinating."


A sci-fi convention lasting just a few days can last forever

Robert J. Sawyer writes on his website about what he considers the power of sci-fi —

“I think science fiction should be fractal: no matter what level of magnification you look at it — a single person, a family, a community, a city, a nation, a world, a solar system, a galaxy, a universe, the multiverse — it should be interesting. No other type of literature has that zoom-in / zoom-out potential, and I like to take full advantage of it.”

The word fractal derives from the Latin adjective "fractus", meaning irregular and broken. In the early 20th century, when studying the British coastline, the British mathematician Lewis Fry Richardson discovered that the length of a coastline depends on how accurately it is measured. Given that the shoreline has been washed into an irregular pattern, the finer the measuring instrument you use, the longer the shoreline is.


Curved shorelines, rolling mountains, crystal-clear snowflakes, changing clouds, winding rivers, criss-crossing veins, a sky full of stars. They are all "fractal".

To see a world in a grain of sand, to see a heaven in a flower. Hold infinity in the palm of your hand, and eternity is one fleeting moment. The details are endless. In an atom, a structure resembling a star exists. With the nucleus at the center, the electrons around the nucleus constantly flash and leap on their ghost star trails".


"The 2023 Chengdu World Science Fiction Convention will be held for several days. It is only a moment in the long river of human civilization, but it can also be eternal from the point of fractal." Sawyer says. "For many young people who fall in love with sci-fi and read sci-fi, some moments of this convention will plant a seed in their hearts, whether it is a lecture, a conversation, or an unforgettable detail. The seeds might grow into towering trees, into spaceships, into a more wonderful world of the future. I am eagerly looking forward to seeing you again."