Robert J. Sawyer, Pakistan, Synchronicity and Last Minute Changes

Robert J. Sawyer, winner (and multiple times nominee) of Hugo and Nebula awards, has become one of my favorite science fiction authors recently. I was reading one of his novels "Flashback" last week, and noticed a small mistake where it said:

"Islamabad, Pakistan (autotranslated from the original Arabic): In my vision, I have two arms-but today, I have only one (I am a veteran of the India-Pakistan ground war)."

The above sentence implied that Arabic (and not Urdu) is the language spoken in Pakistan, which comes as no surprise as a lot of Americans think we are part of the Middle Eastern Arab nations (I've been called a towel-head in jest more than once before I corrected their misconceptions).

Since Robert has mentioned Pakistan in his novels before, and some of his characters are Muslims, so I googled for Robert's email, found it, and wrote a small note to him pointing out the error. I was surprised when I received a reply from him a couple of days later in which he acknowledged the error and actually apologized for it. It turned into an email dialog and he revealed a funny thing: the novel has been around for eight years, but nobody had pointed out this error until last week, when another person (besides myself) also told him about it, and it is particularly embarrassing to him as one of his closest friends is a Pakistani. In a later email, he added that his only excuse was that that particular part of the novel was added as the last thing before the deadline, and was somewhat rushed.

I'm sorry about the title of this post, but the above incident triggered in a bunch of unrelated thoughts (dumped below):

  • Robert Sawyer has earned my respect for being one of the few authors who care about what their readers think. His blog is [here]. If you like scifi, do give his novels a try. Most of his books are set in the near-future on earth (as opposed to alternate universes/other planets), and deal with the possible evolution of current and emerging technologies like AI, VR and Web 2.0.
  • Even though Pakistan may actually be the most dangerous place in the world (would you go to Swat for a vacation next week?), its all we have, one less person misinformed about Pakistan is an improvement.
  • Writing software has a lot in common with writing novels.
  • Blogs and the social networking have made us a lot more open and proactive than possible 2 decades ago. Asimov would have been very happy.
  • What are the chances of two people contacting an author in the same week to correct a tiny mistake eight years after the book was first published?
  • Last minute changes that are released without QA (or proof-reading/fact checking in this case) can result in harmless but irritating bugs.

… back to work I go.

One Comment

  1. Kashif says:

    Nice Post. I haven’t been able to check his work yet but will do soon.

    A great fan of Asmiov, Ray Bradbury, Philip K. Dick, Brian Aldis etc, I have been out of touch from SF scene since last few years 🙂