An Interview with Dr Bob Rich


Sleeper Awake
Dr Bob Rich
ISBN 0743301765
Science Fiction
e-book and paperback: Clock Tower Books

Author Bio

Dr Bob Rich is an Australian writer, mudsmith, psychologist and a few other things that are none of your business. He is cursed with a sense of humour that gets him in trouble all the time, and the same amount of creativity as everyone was born with. Only, in his case somehow the Education System failed to squash it out of him. Bob believes that a major change in focus keeps a person young. His trouble is that the old activities refuse to be discarded, and therefore he is currently seeking several head transplants so he can wear all his hats. He is terribly obsessive, and this affects everything including his writing: he revises his work all the time. This makes him a good editor, as several other writers have attested. Visit him at


1. Can you tell us a little about yourself, your background and writing career, etc?

I may be an insect: my life has undergone a number of metamorphoses. At first, I was a little blond baby in Hungary, during the second world war. The blond hair and blue eyes were lucky. My mother took off her yellow star and sneaked out of the ghetto to get food. She used her obviously Aryan baby as camouflage, and escaped with her life by luck and quick thinking on several occasions. Then I metamorphosed into an idiot. Everybody told me so, not noticing the good school results. The next transformation was when I changed from a Hungarian to an Australian. This was an accident… if there are such things.

I was STILL an idiot, and stayed that way until about 20 years of age. Also I was awkward and useless. This was why I was a champion long distance runner, and did well at judo and boxing and basketball (until the other kids got too tall, the wretches), and was the Dux of my school and got High Distingctions right through University. Every day I had to prove that I was not a stuffup. Then the next day I had to prove it again.

Then I metamorhosed from that ugly grub into a butterfly. I became a husband and proud father, nearly got the Rhodes Scholarship (luckily I missed out), and became a born-again Greenie. This happened because I had kids, and kept falling asleep in the University Library.

Being a Greenie led me to becoming a writer. I am still both. Six years ago came the final change: I became a time traveller. My SF book ‘Sleeper, Awake’ is from a trip to the future, my series ‘The Stories of the Ehvelen’ from the past. And I hope your web page won’t run out of room! This is only the first question.

2. You are winner of the EPPIE 2001 SF Award for Sleeper Awake, was this a highlight in your writing career?

I consider it an honour. It’s not the first prize I have received, but is the most illustrious so far. I am not all that concerned with rewards or glory, but it IS a validation that my writing is good. I feel more humble than proud, and I am not just saying this.

I have been a judge in writing competitions, and I can tell you, the difference between being shortlisted and passed over, the difference between winning and being shortlisted, is one of LUCK. Usually, there are several judges. Reading is such a subjective and individualistic activity that it is rare to have them be unanimous in their rankings. Certainly, the poorly written offerings are easy to eliminate. Beyond this, it’s as much a matter of tickling the taste of the judges as of talent.

This is best seen in reviews. My books have had rave reviews and hatchet jobs, and even worse, the condescending kindness of someone obviously trying to find something nice to say.

3. You were also a finalist for two other books, Anger & Anxiety: Be In Charge Of Your Emotions and Striking Back From Down Under. You are a psychologist and counsellor, how do you juggle a fiction and non-fiction career with your work in this area?

There is no conflict or competition. I do lots of other things as well, for example you might visit my ‘mudsmith’ to see some of my other interests. I have a book on how to build your own house (in print and still selling since 1987), and one on woodworking.

All my non-fiction, even ‘how to’ magazine articles, is written to be entertaining. A text book on the biology of the snail or the history of Common Law needs to be entertaining. A boring book will not teach.

And all my fiction books are also books about my multifarious interests. You’ll find good psychology in ‘Sleeper, Awake’ and ‘The Start of Magic’. You will find detailed ‘how to’ descriptions in ‘The Travels of First Horse’ and several of the short stories in ‘Striking Back From Down Under’.

Look, Robert Heinlein wrote ‘The ant is a specialist. Man is a generalist.’ Well, he wrote that in the ’60s, when you were allowed to use ‘man’ for ‘human being’. But the concept still applies. I am not ‘a writer’, or ‘a psychologist’ or in any such straightjacket, but a HUMAN. Given the motivation, time and opportunity, I can do anything. And so can you.

4. You have a website to promote your work and I notice you are fiercely protective of epublishing, which prompts me to ask why you would recommend it to other authors?

Bit of a sore point at the moment. The big bullies of the publishing world have noticed the small, vigorous, independent e-publishing houses, and are busy squashing them — us. I am all for fighting back.

Electronic publishing is HERE. It is the future. Within 30 years, a paper book will have the curiosity value that a vinyl record has in the age of the CD, or a wind-up watch instead of one with batteries. Karen, you live in Britain. The north polar ice cap is melting, RIGHT NOW! Cold water is flowing south so that, paradoxically, Europe’s winters are colder because of the Greenhouse Effect. And if a new cold current pushes the Gulf Stream out to sea or stops it entirely, life in Western Europe will become nasty, brutish and short. We must do everything, anything, that helps to reduce the catastrophic effects of technology. E-books don’t eat paper. QED.

5. And this leads me to ask whether having a website is something you would suggest all authors consider as a means of promoting their work?

Yes. It is an essential tool. There is only one thing wrong. When you have a web site to promote your work, you need to promote the web site, or nobody will notice it!

6. Can you tell us what you are currently working on at the moment and what are you goals for the future?

I have just finished the first draft of my second psychology book: ‘Personally Speaking: One-session email therapy with Dr Bob Rich’. It is 50 cries for help, ranging from the mildly annoyed to the suicidal, and covering pretty well every aspect of life. Think of a way that people make themselves and each other unhappy, and it’s in there.

Can you do therapy by email? Can you do therapy in one session?

Wait for the book.

Also, I am editing, mostly for authors in the USA. I have advertised a ‘free edit’ competition. People are sending me submissions. After the 1st of June I’ll select the 10 I like best, and post them at Visitors will be invited to examine these finalists and cast a vote. The entry with the most votes will get a free interactive edit from me.

7. Finally, do you have a useful tip you might offer other budding Science Fiction writers, or writers in general?

1. This is almost a cliche, but write for your enjoyment. A flower is a reproductive device, meant to make seeds. A book or story is a communication device, meant to be read by an audience. But some flowers don’t lead to reproduction — think of the potato. And yet, they are beautiful. Your book mightn’t make you rich and famous, but writing is still a better thing to do than watching the idiot box. And a flower deep in the forest, never seen by anyone, is STILL beautiful.

2. Practice does not make perfect: you might be practising the same mistakes over and over. You need FEEDBACK. Enter competitions. Seek assessment and editing from people who won’t just give false praise. Few things can be more hurtful than criticisms of my writing, but again, few things could be more helpful.

3. Write with feeling, and don’t compromise your integrity. It is a mistake to copy someone else because that is what might sell. Who wants to read a Tolkien clone? Or a done-again Asimov? If you put yourself into your characters, they will come to life. I am all the people in my writing, even the ones I dislike. My writing improved to the point where I started to win prizes precisely when I found the courage to be open about who I am.

4. Don’t strut around in borrowed plumage. A writer is meant to be creative, so create. Create turns of phrase rather than carrying on with cliches. Make fashion rather than follow it.

5. Finally, as a writer, you are a crafts person. Become good at your craft. You need to know the rules of language, well enough to be able to violate these rules for occasional effect. It works. In contrast, the blundering word-mincer simply seems ignorant.

Read an extract from Sleeper Awake:

Chapter 1


1. Flora

   The voice came as if from far away. It was a very pleasant, deep female voice, saying over and over, “Flora, wake up. Flora Fielding, wake up, Flora…” on and on.

I’m awake, Flora tried to say, but her mouth, her lungs wouldn’t obey her. Her eyelids were too heavy to lift. And she was cold. Her body was ice. If she moved, surely she’d snap like an icicle — if she could move that is. Her skin hurt everywhere from the bitter, malevolent cold. Her bones ached, all over.

The voice stopped its endless chant and said, “I detect that you are conscious. Don’t struggle. The machine is slowly bringing you back. You’ll be OK.”

So it worked. It must have worked, Flora thought, and a feeling of triumph lent her energy enough to force her eyelids open. The research she’d funded must have found a cure, and now they were resuscitating her.

At first, everything was a liquid blur, then she was gazing at the sight she’d seen before going into suspended animation, before she’d been frozen. A network of plastic pipes descended from a pastel yellow ceiling. They were filled with fluids of different colors: red blood, creamy yellow food, a blue one, another with clear liquid.

“Move your fingers,” the voice commanded. Flora tried, and after several attempts felt them twitch, then bunch up. The cold was now less excruciating. She took a breath that made her chest rise. “What year’s it?” she managed to mumble.

The voice answered, “Thirteen hundred and twelve”.

This was meaningless. I couldn’t have gone back in time! Flora thought in panic, but then the voice explained, “You have been in cryogenic storage for 1433 years. We now have a new system of dates, from the establishment of Control.”

A feeling of unreality, of complete disbelief swamped Flora: It can’t be true. It just can’t! ”I… I expected to be asleep for maybe ten,” she said, her still-weak voice quivering. One and a half thousand years! She turned her head slightly, looking for the source of the voice. She saw no-one. As if reading her mind, the voice said, “I’m not a person, but Artif. I’ve been directed to resuscitate you.”


“In your terms, I’m a computer, sort of.”

This was encouraging. If their technology was this advanced, then surely they had cancer beaten.

A new, masculine voice spoke, a deep, musical baritone. “Welcome, Flora Fielding. Tony Califeri had records of several of your movies, and I’ve seen them all. You were marvelous.”

The female voice said, chidingly, “Abel, Flora knows nothing of Tony. She has no more knowledge of our history than a newborn baby.”

“Just the same,” the man’s amusedly unrepentant voice answered, “I’ve seen the movies, and Flora was wonderful.”

“Thank you,” Flora spoke, a little more strongly now, and became intensely conscious of being naked. Her fifty-two-year-old body was not for a man to see. Or fourteen-hundred-and-eighty-something year-old body, if it was true.

To her surprise, the man said, “Flora, I’m not in the room with you, but on the other side of the earth, in the Arafura Sea. And don’t worry, there are no visuals on. Judging from the records, we guessed that you wouldn’t want to be seen.”

She could only say “thank you” again, but then asked, “Are you a doctor? Have you got a cure?”

The deep voice sounded a melodious laugh. “We leave doctoring to Artif, it’s more efficient. What do you want cured?”

“Cancer,” she said in surprise. Wasn’t that why they’d revived her now?

There was a silence. Then he said, “My translator is looking.”

The female voice spoke, “Abel, that’s a condition where uncontrolled growth of rogue cells occurs. I’ve met four cases this year.”

By now, Flora’s body felt almost normal. She raised herself on an elbow. Black spots swam before her eyes, then cleared. She asked, “Er, Madam, what do I call you?”

There was a smile in the wonderful voice. “Whatever you like. Naturally, I’m not female. I’m the support system for the planet, the executive arm of humanity.”

Abel said, “She’s Artif. I believe that derives from your language. At least… was your language spoken in a place called Canada?”

“Yes,” Flora answered. She became aware of a tingling sensation in the tips of her fingers.

Artif commanded, “Flora, move your legs and arms.”

Flora tried, and to her relief was able to move almost naturally. She sat up and looked around.

Her cocoon for a millennium and a half seemed to have remained unchanged since that time, subjectively an instant ago, when she’d last closed her eyes. Cool pastel blue walls were glowing with indirect lighting. She knew that almost all the wall space consisted of doors hiding the equipment that had kept her alive without deterioration all this time: mechanical and electrical muscle stimulators, hygiene maintenance devices and the like. She had been fuzzy about the details even when Dr Martin had insisted on explaining them to her.

There were no windows, only the closed, airtight sliding door that was almost indistinguishable from the rest of the wall. Her elevated bed was in the middle, with the tubing descending from the low cream-colored ceiling.

The only addition was a hovering ball that rose to be level with her eyes as she sat up. It was the size of a very large watermelon, Flora thought, only it was translucent, and filled with something like swirling white clouds.

A woman’s voice came from the ball, not Artif’s voice but a lighter, higher one. “Greetings, Flora Fielding,” she said, “I’m Mirabelle Karlsen. I’ll be your Advocate when you face Control.”

Artif spoke, her voice also coming from the ball. “Flora, what you’re looking at is something like a television set of your times. I’ve studied the records. Only, everything but sound has been turned off. Just tell me when you are willing to be seen, and I’ll give you vision as well.”

‘Control’ sounded ominous. And something was very obviously not quite right. Ignoring Artif for the moment, Flora answered, “Mirabelle, what is Control? And why do I need an Advocate?” This ball thing confirmed it, she must indeed be in the far distant future.

“‘Control’ is the governing body of humanity. The name originally came because Brad wanted to ensure that Artif would always be controlled by people, not the other way around. Anyway, about the need for an Advocate, if I had my way, you wouldn’t need one. You wouldn’t have been disturbed except for Abel. Ask him.” Her voice had a sharp edge to it.

“Now, now, Mirrie,” Abel’s voice was also located in the hovering globe, and carried the same lazy amusement as before, “you know we all agreed in the end…”

“Don’t call me Mirrie! And yes, I agreed in the end, but…”

“But nothing. Agreed is agreed.”

“You may not realize,” Artif spoke over their bickering,” but these two are the most powerful people on the planet. Abel is President of Control, and Mirabelle is Deputy President.”

That’s all I need, Flora thought, to be caught in the middle of a power struggle. The thing was to sidestep the issue for now, until she could gather more information. That had always worked in the past. So, she said, “I… I am honored by your welcome.” She was pleased that her voice once more had its usual resonance. “Er, Artif, these tubes… how can I…”


The artist who created the book cover for Dr Bob Rich is fellow writer Al Sirois, whose web site is Al is the author of four SF books: Penguin Island, Blood Relations, Blind Ambitions and The Beginnings of Forever. He is a talented artist, and is also the webmaster of the Science Fiction Writers of America.


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