Interview: Robert J. Saywer Exclusive Interview!

FlashForwardJoseph Fiennes and Robert J. Sawyer
Pictured: Joseph Fiennes, star of ABC’s FlashForward and author Robert J. Sawyer.

Author Robert J. Saywer has provided SciFiChick.com with an exclusive interview! Below, Sawyer discusses his reaction to ABC’s version of his novel FlashForward and some of his more recent work.

How involved have you been in the television version of FlashForward?

My contractual position is “consultant.” What that involves varies form day to day, and, frankly, from episode to episode. Today, for example I spent 35 minutes on the phone with David S. Goyer, who is the executive producer of the TV series, and wrote three little memos to him. Other days, I go over script pages, and on still other days I do nothing at all. I’m there to help whenever they need me, but David, Marc Guggenheim, Jessika Goyer, and the rest of the team putting the show together, are, of course, very capable and creative.

I read that you’re on board to write for the show. How was the experience writing an episode?

I haven’t done it yet. I’m writing what’s called episode 117 – first season, 17th episode. I’ll head down to Los Angeles at the beginning of November, so that I can join the staff writers in beating out the episode. FlashForward is a serial – it flows from one episode into the next – so I can’t do mine in isolation. I feel quite privileged, though; I’m the only freelancer getting to write for the show this season; all the other episodes are being written by the staff.

What was your reaction to the new characters in FlashForward?

I think they’re terrific! Remember, the story in my novel is a global event. You could start telling it anywhere: Geneva, as I did in the book, or Beijing, or Nairobi, or Winnipeg – anywhere at all. They decided for practical reasons on L.A. – that’s where they’re filming, after all. Of course, the characters take elements from people in my novel: Olivia and Mark Benford are facing the romantic crisis of Lloyd Simcoe and Michiko Komura from my book; Demetri Noh’s quest to prevent his own murder is the same as Theo Procopides’ quest in my book; and so on. But the new characters are terrific; my own personal favourites of the new ones are Demetri and Dr. Bryce Varley.

What did you think about the decision to change the FlashForward from a 21 year jump to 6 months?

David S. Goyer and Brannon Braga pitched that to me even before they had secured rights to my book—which was both brave and considerate. Brave, in that if I hadn’t liked it, that would have been the end of the TV project. And considerate, because they really do seem to want me to be happy, which is not Hollywood’s reputation in relation to novelists at all. What sold me on the change was the promise that we’d catch up to the actual date essentially in real-time: each episode would advance us one week closer to D-Day, and we’d reach it at the end of the first season. Wow! What a great conceit for a TV show; no one’s ever done a dramatic, scripted series that played out in real-time like that before.

There have been a lot of changes in the translation from novel to television. What do you think of the new versions of the main characters?

The main character in my novel is Lloyd Simcoe, and in the TV series he’s played by Jack Davenport. I’m a huge Jack Davenport fan; I think Coupling — the BBC sitcom he starred in — was absolutely brilliant. I’ve never much cared about minute details of the characters I create; I’m always having to check when writing my books to see what color eyes I gave a character. So that some details are different doesn’t bother me in the least. And what Jack’s brought to the character is fantastic: a real warmth and humanity.

Robert J. Sawyer and Jack Davenport
Pictured: Robert J. Sawyer and Jack Davenport.

Your novel revolves heavily around science and physics. Are we going to see any of that in the show, since the main characters are cops instead of scientists?

You know Walt Disney, right? You know he’s dead? You know they say his body is frozen somewhere in a cryogenic vault, like Khan Noonien Singh? And you know that Disney owns ABC? If I were to answer that question—or any question about things you haven’t yet seen on TV—old Walt would come out of deep freeze and throttle me. The joy of a show like FlashForward is watching the twists and turns; I’m not going to spoil that fun for anyone. Even my parents don’t know what’s coming up.

Can you talk a bit about your writing experience?

Sure. It’s been great, even setting aside FlashForward. I’m writing my twentieth novel right now, I’ve been lucky enough to win 43 national and international awards for my fiction, including the top awards in the SF field: the Hugo, the Nebula, and the John W. Campbell Memorial Award. I enjoy my work enormously, and I’m lucky enough to make a good living at it — and I do mean lucky; times are tough, and I have many friends at least as talented and hard-working as I am who are not having as good a run. I love what I do, and I want to keep on doing it; it’s not just a great job, it’s been a great life.

What inspires you?

Science. I devour magazines like New Scientist and Discover and Scientific American. I visit lots of science facilities — I just got home from a tour of TRIUMF, the world’s largest cyclotron. I meet with and exchange emails with working scientists all the time. The world is amazing, and the more you know about how it works — about physics, and chemistry, and biology, and astronomy, and cosmology — the more wonderful it seems.

Who are some of your favorite authors? What books do you love?

Within science fiction, Arthur C. Clarke is my favorite author; his work always had that sense of wonder I strive to capture in my own fiction. I’m also a big fan of Frederik Pohl, Jack McDevitt, and Robert Charles Wilson. Among my favorite novels are To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger, Letters from the Flesh by Marcos Donnelly, and The Enormous Egg by Oliver P. Butterworth.

What do you do when you’re not writing? In your spare time?

Honestly, I haven’t had any spare time to speak of for a decade now: every time I turn around someone is offering me an amazing opportunity that I can’t turn down. I just spent two months as writer-in-residence at a particle accelerator, for instance, and before that, I was down in Laramie at a NASA-sponsored astronomy workshop, and before that I was off in Istanbul giving a talk and touring archeological sites. If I ever do get a chance to slow down, I want to read, just for pleasure, instead of for research.

Thanks for your time! Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Yes, indeed. Obviously, I’m excited about FlashForward, but it isn’t, in fact, the most exciting thing in my life right now. What I’m really excited about is my current trilogy of novels, Wake, Watch, and Wonder, about the World Wide Web gaining consciousness. Most people seem to think they’re the best things I’ve ever written, and as I finish up the final volume, I think I’m inclined to agree. I hope readers will give them a try. The opening chapters of all my books are on my website at sfwriter.com.

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