For detailed accounts and reviews of each book, as well as excerpts and supplementary materials (such as essays by the author on what inspired it), or to buy autographed copies of some books, visit Robert J. Sawyer's website.
Every one of Sawyer's books tackles complex social and philosophical issues, mixing it with plotlines that are compelling on a number of levels. His novels have achieved popularity among mainstream readers, breaking through the glass ceiling that many science fiction authors have to deal with.
These are organized in order of my personal preference... It was a tough call, though. I recommend them all. They range from near-future Earth stories to far future deep space stories. There's something for everyone!
Hugo Award winner - Best Novel
Plot: Through a one-in-a-million accident with a quantum computer, physicist Ponter Boddit is ripped from his world - and arrives in ours. In his version of Earth, Neanderthals instead of homo sapiens gained consciousness first and rose to dominance. The Neanderthals live in atheistic communist societies, where the majority of aggressive tendencies are weeded from the gene pool, benign Companion artificial intelligences prevent, and elaborate family relationships exist. There is no crime and no war. He must come to understand the strange world that he's in and also re-establish contact with his home world... but will the Neanderthal world be able to survive meeting its distant cousins?
Comments: This trilogy brings all of Rob's talent to bear in creating a rich society of Neanderthals and depicting the way they have cared for the planet in place of homo sapiens. The trilogy is easily one of the most morally complex novels I've ever encountered. The Neanderthals, who in many way are peaceful, have a strict code of justice to deal with aggressive criminals ... a code that punishes not only the criminal, but also those who share fifty percent of their genetic code. Also, the Neanderthals possess no concept of religion. The main homo sapien character, Mary Vaughn, has just been a victim of a violent rape and must confront how that has changed her, and whether the Neanderthal religious view will change her even more ...
Hugo Award Finalist - Best Novel
Plot: In Calculating God, Sawyer directly confronts the scientific possibilities of a creator of the universe. Aliens make contact with humans, in an effort to study the evolution of life on Earth. They believe that they have proof that God exists.
Comments: This was the first novel of Sawyer's that I read, less than a year ago. Clearly it hooked me, or this page wouldn't have been constructed and I wouldn't own the 8 books of his that are in print. The ideas presented in this book are astounding and, combined with the phenomenal story, dragged me along. I've recommended this book to a friend, and she in turn to another friend. Both instantly fell in love with it.
Plot: In Factoring Humanity, humanity receives signals from an alien race. Psychologist Heather Davis, in the midst of family crisis and unresolved grief, is part of the world-wide team to try and decode the bizarre message. Her attempt will lead her into a deep understanding of the human psyche, as well as the truth about those she most loves.
Comments: The personal story in this is truly disturbing and touching at the same time. The over-arching story of alien contact is handled with finesse, presenting a diverse array of scientific topics with an ease that would make the non-scientific reader comfortable in understanding them.
Plot: In Illegal Alien, we once again have aliens making contact with humanity. (Although chronologically, this is the first of his near-future/first contact stories.) The aliens are embraced and welcomed by humanity... until a brutal murder of a popular physicist television personality places one of the alien visitors on trial for his life -- and possibly ours.
Comments: The best thing about Sawyer is that he comes up with a cool idea, and he has the nerve and skill to run with it. This book takes the idea of a media circus murder trial and puts a new spin on it, by having the defendant be an alien who has made first contact with our species. This novel works both as a trial novel on par with John Grisham and as a science fiction novel on par with Isaac Asimov.
Nebula Award Winner - Best Novel
Plot: Richard Hobson makes the most controversial scientific discovery of all time -- proof that some portion of human brain function extends after the body dies. In an attempt to more fully comprehend the implications of this discovery, Hobson creates three computer replicas of himself. One simulates existence without a body -- pure spirit -- while another simulates existence without physical aging -- physical immortality. The third is a control.
Then the murders begin, and Hobson realizes that some version of him is committing them. Only two questions remain: Which one and what can he do about it?
Comments: Though Sawyer has won a number of awards, including several Aurora Awards (Canada's highest science fiction award), this is his only Nebula award-winning novel to date. It's a murder mystery (he's also won Canada's award for mystery - the Arthur Ellis award) as well as an engrossing near-future science fiction story. The fact that it's this far down on my picks just goes to show that his other books are phenomenal, not to detract anything from this one.
Plot: As scientists perform an experiment to re-create energies that haven't existed since the Big Bang, an unexpected and world-shattering side effect takes place. Every human consciousness on the planet is sent forward two decades, experiencing what they will be doing twenty years in the future. In the aftermath, the world tries to deal with the knowledge that it has gained. For better or for worse.
Comments: The plot says it all. This is one of his most impressive and original ideas, in my opinion. A time travel novel in which the only thing that travels is sensory information. Imagine that the entire world sees and hears and feels two minutes from twenty years in the future... What a cool idea?
Plot: A man with a genetic disease immerses himself in the study of genetics, eventually coming to work at the Human Genome Project. There he gets wrapped up in a mystery that dates back fifty years - to the heart of Nazi Germany's death camps and a brutal missing war criminal.
Comments: An incredibly suspenseful novel. This one's set completely in the modern day, and the science in it is some of the most realistic that I've ever read. It's some of his best characterization, as well.
Plot: On the starship Argos, on an eight year relativistic journey to explore other planets, there has been a suicide. Everyone is ready to move on, except for Aaron Rossman, who suspects that there's more to his ex-wife's death than everyone thinks. His effort to find the truth will pit him against an opponent that he cannot escape - the Argos itself.
Comments: Again we have a mystery SF novel. This is one of my favorite types of novels when done well, and Sawyer has not failed to do well in any of his books that I've read. This is a bit more high-tech than most of his more recent work, though... If you're reading it for the mystery only, I'd recommend one of his other novels, as there's some fairly sophisticated science in this one.
Plot: Humanity has discovered a system of manufactured shortcuts through space, allowing travel to distant parts of the galaxy. Along with two other alien races, they've established starbases at various shortcuts for purposes of scientific study. One of these starbases, Starplex, discovers a curious cosmological anomaly. Going to investigate, they find themselves relying on all of their abilities in order to survive the war that threatens to destroy all that they've built.
Comments: This is Sawyer's attempt at Star Trek - done right! A success, in my opinion. There's a lot crammed into this novel. Of all of Sawyer's books that I've read, this is the only one that I think non-SF fans would have any trouble digesting. As someone who's familiar with science, I loved it. If you aren't familiar with scientific principles - quantum mechanics, dark matter, wormholes, cosmological evolution, etc. - I'd definitely recommend some of his less intensive novels.
Plot: Two scientists travel back to the era when the dinosaurs existed to study them. While there, they discover a number of startling scientific oddities - gravity is less than in the present, certain stars don't seem to move in the sky, and the dinosaurs are behaving in strange ways. Before their return window closes, they must confront the danger of an ancient Earth - and each other - to discover the truth and set history on the correct path.
Comments: While I've read many stories about time travel to the dinosaur era, Sawyer's genuine love and knowledge of paleontology makes this one of the most enjoyable of them. He blends speculation and scientific fact seamlessly, then throws in a couple of realistic characters with real issues to top it off. The book reads swiftly and the conclusion brings all disparate plot threads together in a miraculous and powerful conclusion.
This is a trilogy that's out of print, but is returning in a trilogy of trade paperbacks from Tor in the upcoming months.