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Relativity
Robert J. Sawyer
ISFiC Press, 304 pages

Relativity
Robert J. Sawyer
The winner of the Nebula Award in 1995 for The Terminal Experiment, Robert J. Sawyer has also won three Aurora Awards, Canada's award for excellence in science fiction. His novel Starplex was a finalist for both the Hugo and the Nebula and Hominids won the Hugo for best novel. In addition, he earned the Arthur Ellis Award from the Crime Writers of Canada.

Robert J. Sawyer Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Hybrids
SF Site Review: Hybrids
SF Site Review: Hominids
SF Site Review: Flashforward
SF Site Review: Frameshift
SF Site Review: Calculating God
SF Site Review: Factoring Humanity
SF Site Review: Illegal Alien
SF Site Review: Frameshift
Steven H Silver's Review of Starplex
Steven H Silver's Review of The Terminal Experiment

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Adam Volk

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When it comes to blending cutting edge science with complex philosophical ruminations, there are few authors more talented than Robert J. Sawyer. For those unfortunate few who have not yet heard of Robert J. Sawyer, the man has left an indelible mark on the Science Fiction community; earning a well-deserved reputation as a major talent, in addition to his recent receipt of both a Hugo and Nebula award. Sawyer is one of those rare SF authors who is able to approach complex scientific concepts and humanize them with believable characters, rich dialogue and all too real moral and philosophical dilemmas. Though he is perhaps best known for the award winning Neanderthal Parallax trilogy, Sawyer has proven himself in his previous works as well. Whether it be exploring the nature of social evolution in his Quintaglio Ascension Trilogy, examining theology and science in Calculating God, or the moral dangers of alien contact in Factoring Humanity, Sawyer's work is Science Fiction that moves beyond the realm of mere adolescent escapism, becoming a rich, intelligent and entertaining form of contemporary literature.

Which brings us to Robert J. Sawyer's most recent publication: Relativity, a collection of essays, speeches, and short fiction released from the fledgling Chicago based ISFiC Press. With an introduction by legendary editor Mike Resnick and featuring a critical essay by Valerie Broege, the collection offers an insightful and entertaining look into Sawyer's vast body of work.

Relativity begins appropriately enough with a collection featuring eight previously published short stories. While fans already familiar with Sawyer's work may have perused some of these tales in previous anthologies, the stories remain a joy to read, displaying Sawyer's usual panache for creating memorable narratives with intriguing moral and technological concepts. The collection offers a fairly substantive variety of Sawyer's talent, ranging from innovative tales such as "Just Like Old Times" in which a disembodied criminal is given the chance to travel back in time in the form of a T-Rex, to the titular "Relativity" which tells the story of a lone female astronaut who returns home to a planet that has aged far beyond her own experiences. Where Sawyer truly shines however is in his stories that demonstrate a keen grasp on the human condition including "Immortality" which offers a nostalgic look into life, music and the progress of time or "The Hand Your Dealt" which is Sawyer's exploration of a future libertarian society. The collection is further rounded out by the quirky "The Stanley Cup Caper" which is a short yet satisfying (and highly Canadian) look at a pair of futuristic Toronto detectives tracking down the holy grail of Hockey.

Sawyer also manages to breathe new life into tired SF clichés with his unique and entertaining explorations ranging from artificial habitats in "Star Light, Star Bright," to generational colonization in "The Shoulders of Giants" and his own fascinating interpretation of alien contact with "Ineluctable." Perhaps most enjoyable of all, each short story offers a brief initial commentary from Sawyer, providing a fascinating look into what inspired the story and the circumstances concerning its creation. These minor introductory additions will be much appreciated by fans and offer a unique perspective into the creative process.

In all eight stories Sawyer's elegant writing style and solid grasp of the human condition help to propel the works beyond the tired, redundant works many SF short stories devolve into. The stories may lack the depth and scope that Sawyer is able to achieve in his longer works, but they still display his trademark intelligence, creativity, and appreciation for the genre.

The collected short fiction however, is only half of what Relativity has to offer. Sawyer's fiction is followed by an extensive collection of his many speeches and essays which have been gathered over the years. While the notion of pouring over dissertations and lengthy diatribes may be unappealing to some, in reality Sawyer's collected essays and speeches are as entertaining and lively as his fiction. The collection of speeches includes Sawyer's acceptance speech from the 2003 Hugo Awards, along with a brilliant dissertation entitled "The Future is Already Here," which was originally presented to the Library of Congress in Washington D.C. in 1999. In the latter speech, Sawyer poses some interesting questions not only about the evolving and pluralistic nature of Science Fiction, but indeed of writing and literature itself. Similarly, he delivers a highly elucidating speech in his "AI and Sci-Fi: My, Oh, My" which displays Sawyer's usual flare for blending pop-cultural references with complex scientific analysis. Finally, the collected speeches are rounded out by a lively presentation entitled "Science Fiction and Social Change" from Sawyer's appearance at a conference on the very same issue presented at Calgary's Mount Royal College in 2004.

Sawyer's speeches in their written form are far from the dry, meandering musings one might encounter in a stuffy academic setting. On the contrary, even in their written form, the speeches display Sawyer's trademark flare for open debate mixed with humor and foresight. One normally associates a written collection of speeches with some long dead and obscure historical figure, yet here they make for fascinating reading not only for fans of Robert J. Sawyer but indeed for fans of SF in their entirety.

Fortunately, the speeches are complimented by several entertaining and informative essays. Again what might be construed as an exercise in academics is in fact an accessible, thought provoking and highly engaging collection which explores not only Sawyer's own work, but Science Fiction in general. In "A Tale of Two Stories" for example, Sawyer provides an intriguing analysis of the differences and apparent similarities between Canadian and American SF. The essays themselves then proceed to cover a vast territory of intellectual and social analysis. From his "Committing Trilogy" which explores the creation and evolution of the Neanderthal Parallax, to essays exploring the private sector in space, or tackling Margaret Atwood's dystopian perspective of the future. Perhaps most interesting of all are Sawyer's firm, helpful and inspiring essays on writing, with tips on dialogue, character and the old adage of "show, don't tell." Even more illuminating is Sawyer's advice on the business aspect of publishing, something that is often neglected by up and coming authors.

Finally Relativity is rounded out with a critical essay from Valerie Broege, analyzing Sawyer's place in Science Fiction writers' pantheon, and a somewhat amusing (though slightly unnecessary) cross word puzzle.

Ultimately, Relativity is a fascinating read, not only for those interested in Sawyer's vast body of work, but for fans of Science Fiction. It is a rare collection that is able to accomplish what Relativity does, but this single tome is a fiction anthology, collection of essays and speeches, and a writers manual, all conveniently printed into one volume.

Perhaps the only flaw in Relativity is the lack of recent original fiction (the eight stories are after all reprints from previous anthologies), but such a quibble is minor in nature and as a whole Relativity is well worth the price. Indeed, with Sawyer's latest novel Mindscan slated for a release in April 2005, his own RJS Books imprint flourishing, and his novels continuing to gain accolades and critical praise, Relativity offers an intriguing glimpse into the mind of one of Science Fictions rising talents, the redoubtable Robert J. Sawyer.

Copyright © 2005 Adam Volk

Adam Volk may or may not be a zombie cyborg. He is also an editor with EDGE Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing (www.edgewebsite.com), a freelance writer, a comic book creator and a regular reviewer for the Silver Bullet Comic Books website (www.silverbulletcomicbooks.com.).


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