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Science fiction author Robert J. Sawyer shares three 'must read' books

VIDEO Hugo award-winning author Robert J. Sawyer selects a novel, a biography, and a non-fiction science read for Cross Country Checkup's winter list of good reading.
Watch Canadian science fiction author Robert J. Sawyer give his suggestions for the Cross Country Checkup annual winter book list. 4:57

Robert J Sawyer is a science fiction writer, whose latest novel Quantum Night is included on the Canada Reads long list. He's prepared three books that he recommends you check out this winter, part of Cross Country Checkup's annual winter list of good reading.


The Affinities by Robert Charles Wilson, published by Tor Books.

My first recommendation, because I'm a science fiction writer, is a science fiction novel by a fellow Canadian, who has also won the Hugo Award for best science fiction novel as I have. His name is Robert Charles Wilson and he lives just north of Toronto. He wrote a novel called, The Affinities.

One of the standard story generating engines for science fiction is to take something we normally think of as metaphoric and treat it as if it were literal. And what Bob has done in The Affinities is take the notion of echo chambers — only hearing your side of an issue, that is metaphorically true on social media platforms — and make that literally true.

He asks, "What if people actually moved in to compounds where they lived with only like minded people? How would it affect their psychology? How would it affect their view of the world?"

It's fast paced and interesting — a richly written novel with beautiful language. Bob is a consummate literary stylist has all those virtues but it also goes to show very directly that science fiction is far more than just escapism; it's a trenchant medium for social comment.


Time Reborn, by Lee Smolin; published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Time Reborn by Lee Smolin, published by Knopf Canada.

The Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics is the world's greatest pure physics thinktank and it's located here in Canada, in Waterloo, Ont. One of the lead scientists there is Lee Smolin.

Lee has been a vocal critic of a lot of current thinking in physics particularly of string theory. He says that it makes no testable predictions, which is great if you want job security as a physicist because nobody can ever prove you're wrong. But he's come to think that in modern physics we tend to dismiss the notion of time.

He has a book out called Time Reborn. Time Reborn a nonfiction book in which he argues that the only thing we can be sure actually exists is time — the march and progression of events from the distant past through a moment that we psychologically label 'the present' and into a changeable future.

It's a fascinating rebuttal to a lot of the thinking in current philosophy and in current physics and it also is just a really good introduction. Lee's one of the great theoretical physicists of the modern era but he is also a great communicator so anybody could read this book. If you like The Nature of Things, or if you like Quirks and Quarks you'll certainly like Lee Smolin's writing; and Time Reborn is his latest nonfiction book and it's an absolutely compelling read. It's worth the time.


Genius in the Shadows: A Biography of Leo Szilard, the Man Behind the Bomb, by William Lanouette with Bela Silard; published by University of Chicago Press
Genius in the Shadows: A Biography of Leo Szilard, The man behind the bomb by William Lanouette with Bela Silard published by The University of Chicago Press.

And lastly I'll recommend a biography. I'm a fiction writer and fiction is telling the lives of unreal people. But the only way you can learn to do that well is by really understanding the lives of real people. So I quite enjoy reading biography and one that's moved me a great deal is a biography called Genius in the Shadows: A Biography of Leo Szilard, The man behind the bomb.

Leo Szilard got out of Hungary on the last train before the Nazis closed the border. He was the man who met with Albert Einstein and convinced Einstein to send a letter to President Truman saying: they're working towards building an atomic bomb in Germany; it's possible now to make an atomic bomb and the United States has to enter the race for the atom bomb. But almost from the moment when Szilard succeeded in convincing the United States to do this, he came to regret it. And when the first actual fission reaction was done in the United States he said to Enrico Fermi, who had engineered the reaction, "This will be a black mark in humanity's history."

This online segment was prepared by Ayesha Barmania.

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