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By Liivi Sandi

Gentlemen, if you’d really like to impress this Halloween, dress up as Ponter, the Neanderthal in author Robert J. Sawyer’s latest novel, Hybrids.

Ponter’s utopian superiority is only one of his assets. “He has an Arnold Schwarzenegger physique,” says Sawyer, though he adds Ponter is far more intelligent than any brawny Hollywood celebrity.

Sawyer has written 17 science fiction books since he graduated from Ryerson’s Radio and Television Arts program in 1982.Hybrids, the third volume of his trilogy, will be available in paperback on Nov 2.

His first in the series, Hominids, won the 2003 Hugo Award for best novel. In Hybrids, Ponter is a quantum physicist and philosopher who roams to our part of earth from a utopian civilization, which split off from the world as we know it 40,000 years ago.

In Ponter’s idealistic society there is no religion and every one is prosperous. While here, he finds that we’re abusive to our environment and towards other people. He observes racial prejudice and overcrowding. Sawyer says he creates a division between the Neanderthal’s world and ours to generate thought about how we can improve our own society.

“I set up characters that can set up the issues I want to present,” says Sawyer.

Ponter’s love affair with a York University professor becomes a central indication of the separateness of the two societies. Wandering into other realms is commonplace for Sawyer, who abandoned the broadcast field soon after graduating and dedicated his life to writing.

Sawyer says he isn’t a fan of the collaborative effort that working in television demands. “I wasn’t willing to let that many people play in my sandbox,” he says. His last foray into the broadcast field was a job as a lab assistant in a television studio at Ryerson after graduation.

As a teenager he wrote fiction and, upon graduation, wrote non-fiction. Sawyer did everything from freelance writing for newspapers to business magazines. Ryerson recognized his talent as a creative writer in 2002, when he was given an Alumni Award of Distinction.

The ideas behind his books are philosophical. Sawyer is a lifelong reader and is interested in science as much as social injustice. His favourite novel, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, on the surface is about kids enjoying a summer holiday.

But the real story is about the gross injustices of racism in the Deep South. Hybrids presents a similar dichotomy. “Despite its far out quality, the story is really about what it is to be human,” Sawyer says.

He presents a Canadian identity in much of his work. In Hybrids, he suggests that Ponter is more Canadian than Mary, who embodies more American values. Sawyer’s books are popular at Bakka, a science fiction bookstore on Yonge Street.

“People are hungry for scientific detail,” employee Chris Szego says. “But he’s popular because he’s an accessible writer.” Szego says Sawyer explores the outcomes of scientific topics. He looks at society and sees how it can be changed or improved.

“He gets people thinking about things they don’t know about.” Sawyer is also available to young writers. He offers writing workshops and has extensive writing tips on his web site. His books are studied in universities worldwide.

York University professor Paul Fayter says Sawyer is good at absorbing science and letting the reader know what’s going on. “Students feel like they’re reading what’s relevant in science, not some battle happening in an unknown galaxy,” Fayter says.Most of Sawyer’s material is set in the present or near future. “He’s theorizing questions that will be addressed in a year or two.”

Get a few drunken Ponters around this Halloween, though, and those questions could be answered sooner than expected.

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