Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Robert J. Sawyer Interview - The Oppenheimer Alternative

Photo Credit: Bernard-Clark-Color

Robert J. Sawyer — called "the dean of Canadian science fiction" by The Ottawa Citizen and "just about the best science-fiction writer out there" by The Denver Rocky Mountain News — is one of only eight writers in history (and the only Canadian) to win all three of the science-fiction field's top honors for best novel of the year:
the World Science Fiction Society's Hugo Award, which he won for his novel Hominids;

the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America's Nebula Award, which he won for his novel The Terminal Experiment; and the John W. Campbell Memorial Award, which he won his novel Mindscan.

Rob is a member of the Order of Canada, the highest honor given by his country, and of the Order of Ontario, the highest honor given by his province. He was also one of the initial inductees into the Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame. According to the US trade journal Locus, Rob is the #1 all-time worldwide leader in number of award wins as a science fiction or fantasy novelist.

The 2009-2010 ABC TV series FlashForward was based on Rob's of the same name, and he was a scriptwriter for that series. Rob also hosted the Canadian TV series Supernatural Investigator and wrote the two-part series finale for the popular web series Star Trek Continues.

Maclean's says, "By any reckoning, Sawyer is among the most successful Canadian authors ever," and The New York Times calls him "a writer of boundless confidence and bold scientific extrapolation." The Canadian publishing trade journal Quill & Quire named Rob one of "the thirty most influential, innovative, and just plain powerful people in Canadian publishing" (the only other authors making the list were Margaret Atwood and Douglas Coupland).

Rob's twenty-four novels include The Oppenheimer Alternative, Quantum Night, Calculating God, and the "WWW" trilogy of Wake, Watch, and Wonder, each volume of which separately won the Aurora Award — Canada's top honor in science fiction — for Best Novel of the Year. In addition, his "Neanderthal Parallax" trilogy, consisting of Hominids, Humans, and Hybrids, won the Aurora Award for Best Work of the Entire Decade (for the first decade of the 21st century).

Rob's novels are top-ten national mainstream bestsellers in Canada, appearing on the Globe and Mail and Maclean's bestsellers' lists, and they've hit #1 on the science-fiction bestsellers' lists published by Locus, Amazon.com, Amazon.ca, Amazon.co.uk, and Audible.com.

Rob — who holds honorary doctorates from the University of Winnipeg and Laurentian University — has done consulting for many organizations, including NASA, and he's given over 100 keynote addresses worldwide. Born in Ottawa, he lives just west of Toronto in Mississauga.


1. Every character in the novel is a real person who was also famous; my biggest challenge was becoming as expert about them as I am about the characters I’d made up for my previous books. The cast includes the greatest scientific geniuses of the 20th century, including J. Robert Oppenheimer, Edward Teller, Enrico Fermi, Leo Szilard, Albert Einstein, and Wernher von Braun.

2. The Oppenheimer Alternative has been called an “alternate history,” but it’s really a secret history: all of the public events in the novel happened exactly as I say they did, but a large part of the action fills in mind-blowing stuff that was going on behind the scenes. Yes, it’s fiction—but none of it is contradicted by any known facts.

3. For those who are interested in what’s fact and what’s fiction in the novel, there’s a comprehensive guide HERE!

4. I didn’t intend to write this novel—or any new novel. I’d honestly thought I was done when I finished my previous novel, Quantum Night, which came out in 2016. But as I read up on J. Robert Oppenheimer, the guy just wouldn’t let me go—a larger-than-life character who, frankly, reminds me of Wile E. Coyote: a super-genius, scrawny as heck, with an inordinate fondness for the American Southwest, who, despite his smarts, brings his downfall through cringeworthy acts of stupidity.

5. The Oppenheimer Alternative is my 24th novel, and it’s become a hallmark of my books to include subtle references to Star Trek, Planet of the Apes, and The Six Million Dollar Man. Some of my fans really enjoy spotting them. Well, it was a challenge to manage that when writing a book set before any of those things existed, but I managed it. A guide to the Easter eggs in the novel is HERE!

6. All 23 of my previous novels were with big-five publishers, but this time I’ve gone with smaller presses, for two reasons: first, they were nimble enough to get the book out in time for the 75th anniversary of the birth of the atomic age in the summer of 2020, and, second, they were willing to let me keep ebook and audiobook rights, something the big five won’t.

7. The Oppenheimer Alternative has two different covers. My US publisher wanted one that would appeal to my core science-fiction audience, and my Canadian publisher wanted a cover that would appeal to a mainstream/literary audience. The question is whether the average reader can tell which is which!

8. There are 58 chapter-head epigraphs in The Oppenheimer Alternative, and some of them are quite outrageous—but all of them are real things actually said by the various historical figures who populate the novel.

9. Most places let you file a book under three categories, and for The Oppenheimer Alternative those would be alternate history, science fiction, and historical fiction, but if I could pick a fourth? Romance.

10. I originally had no plans to write a sequel—the novel stands alone just fine on its own—but people have been enjoying The Oppenheimer Alternative so much, and it’s selling so well, that I’m giving it serious thought. The working title? The Teller Redemption.

On the 75th anniversary of the dropping of the atomic bomb, Hugo and Nebula-winning author Robert J. Sawyer takes us back in time to revisit history…with a twist.

While J. Robert Oppenheimer and his Manhattan Project team struggle to develop the A-bomb, Edward Teller wants something even more devastating: a bomb based on nuclear fusion—the mechanism that powers the sun.

Teller’s research leads to a terrifying discovery: by the year 2030, the sun will eject its outermost layer, destroying the entire inner solar system—including Earth.

As the war ends with the use of fission bombs against Japan, Oppenheimer's team, plus Albert Einstein and Wernher von Braun, stay together—the greatest scientific geniuses from the last century racing against time to save our future.

Meticulously researched and replete with real-life characters and events, The Oppenheimer Alternative is a breathtaking adventure through both real and alternate history.


"I loved it!" —Lee Smolin, bestselling author of The Trouble with Physics

"An imaginative restructuring of a phantasmagoric life into an alternative phantasmagorical story. Oppenheimer fans will be intrigued." —Martin J. Sherwin, co-author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning biography American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer

"Impressive use of scientific and historical detail and Sawyer's characterization of the man himself pull back the layers of Oppenheimer's morals, genius, and grief. Science fiction fans will devour this smart speculative tale." —Publishers Weekly

"You can call this alternate history or alternate astrophysics (or both). Whatever term you choose, it's a terrific story." —Eric Flint, author of 1632

You can purchase The Oppenheimer Alternative at the following Retailers:

And now, The Giveaways.
Thank you ROBERT J. SAWYER for making this giveaway possible.
1 Winner will receive a Copy of The Oppenheimer Alternative by Robert J. Sawyer.