A.I. is a Crapshoot: The Terminal Experiment provides an interesting example in that the AI in question started out as human. The protagonist is a scientist who's trying to test his theories of the soul using his friend's brain-scanning technology. They scan a copy of all the linkages in his brain into a computer database and make three versions-one is unaltered from the original as a control, the second has all linkages relating to the body removed as a simulation of life after death, and the third has all linkages relating to knowledge of death and dying removed as a simulation of immortality. Eventually the consciousnesses break out into the electronic world at large. Then people negatively involved with the protagonist's life start winding up dead. Now the protagonist has to figure out which version of himself is capable of killing other human beings. It was the unaltered version that was a straight copy of his own brain. It knew it was a copy and decided since it could get away with the murders it would go right ahead.
Aliens in Cardiff: Many of his books either are set in Canada, or have Canadian characters. He's stated it's to make up for the lack of them in science fiction novels. Often they're in Toronto, Ontario or nearby, which is his hometown.
Aluminum Christmas Trees: Much of the Canadian history scattered throughout Sawyer's various novels, at least to American readers. Subverted by the fact that this is mixed with future predicted Canadian "history" with no indication of which is which.
In Quantum Night, Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshibecomes the first Muslim Prime Minister of Canada, but most American readers probably don't realize he's a real person (although Sawyer notes this in the prologue).
Happens with a lot of locations as well. The Sudbury Neutrino Observatory from the Neanderthal Parallax is real, as are Saskatoon's synchrotron and Winnipeg's Human Rights Museum in Quantum Night, plus numerous other examples.
Inverted in Flashforward, and The Terminal Experiment, both of which feature appearances by Pope Benedict XVI and are set during his Real Life papacy, but were written before he became Pope, meaning his inclusion was not intentional.
Author Tract: It becomes pretty obvious what Sawyer thinks about various issues across his novels (e.g. atheism, religion), and this even extends to his pet peeves, such as how January 1, 2000 wasn't the real new millennium given that there was no year zero-rather, it's January 1, 2001. Quantum Night seems pretty heave-handed against the US right wing too. It's hard to imagine even the most hard-line Republican in the US invading Canada or abolishing illegal aliens' human rights.
It should be mentioned that in the Neanderthal Parallax, the watching is done automatically; an individual's implanted Companion computer records everything he or she does, sending that recording to a storage facility where only you can access your records, or the authorities if a judge orders it after you've been accused of a crime.
Bizarre Alien Biology: Sawyer is known for making his aliens truly alien. Tosoks in Illegal Alien have a different bodily structure from most Earth beings, with radial symmetry, for instance-they have one arm at the back. Plus their females have four uteruses, and usually are impregnated by an equal number of males in turn. It's thus much more common to have half siblings.
Bizarre Alien Psychology: In Illegal Alien, the Tosok race has no sense of privacy in regards to sexual matters, since with them this usually involves group sex (four males impregnating one female). Their internal anatomy, however, is viewed as sacred and not to be discussed in public except when absolutely necessary. Also, they don't have a concept of “right” in terms of morals, believing all things are predestined. One character speculates this is due to the fact they don't have right and left sides to their anatomy, but three, with one (an arm in the back) being inherently strongest. They therefore have no concept of crime, although dangerous people are restrained. In his The Neanderthal Parallax books, the Neanderthals are incapable of religious and mystical beliefs due to having a different brain structure.
Brain Uploading: The premise of Red Planet Blues, Mindscan and to a lesser extent The Terminal Experiment.
Interestingly, although In-Universe, the technology is presented as a perfectly normal thing with no ethical concerns (at least by most characters), a deeper reading may give the exact opposite interpretation, as it's implied in some stories that they kill the original after the transfer has occurred.
See also Villain Has a Point below, as the main opponents of the technique in the two novels tend to do some pretty nasty things.
Canada, Eh?: Notably averted in his novels, which are often set in Canada and/or feature Canadians, as Sawyer himself is a Canadian who knows better (although some of the stereotypes are brought up, usually by American characters).
Coca-Pepsi, Inc.: In Rollback, Coca-Cola and Pepsi merged at some point in the mid-21st century. The protagonist is delighted he never has to hear a waiter apologetically ask "Is Pepsi okay?" ever again.
Do Androids Dream?: Mindscan features a technology for copying a human personality into immortal android bodies. The elderly and people suffering from terminal illnesses undergo this process, being replaced with the copy before leaving for an extralegal moon base to live out their last days in luxurious retirement. However when one is sued by her son to get her property, claiming she's legally "dead" and another of the recipients finds that a cure has just been discovered for his condition and wants to take his old life back from his copy, the legal rights and personhood of the android duplicates is brought into question.
False Rape Accusation: Both played straight and thoroughly subverted in Factoring Humanity. The main character is accused of molesting his daughter, and he is known to the reader (but not the other characters) to be innocent. A major plotline involves him striking up a friendship with a teacher who was falsely accused of sexually harassing one of his students. They discuss how the allegations have affected them and the older peer comforts the main character. Near the end of the story though the older peer admits that he actually did it.
Fantastic Legal Weirdness: In Mind Scan, there's a trial over whether or not a character who uploaded her consciousness into an android body can still be considered the same person, or legally dead, with her property going to her son. Illegal Alien involves a milder example, with an alien charged in the murder of a human.
First Contact Math: This fails in Calculating God. Transmissions to Delta Pavonis go unnoticed by the native aliens, because they have a brain structure that makes them incapable of doing math.
Fun with Acronyms: Lampshaded in Starplex. The human characters do this all the time, but the aliens frequently point out how annoying this is - apparently their languages never had such a concept. One alien character even refuses to call the ship's computer PHANTOM because that too is an acronym.
Godwin's Law: Invoked, discussed, and arguably justified in Quantum Night. The main character compares the mass killing of Latinos in the Southern and Southwestern United States to the Holocaust. After his colleague immediately claims he has lost the argument, he complains that Godwin implied the Holocaust was a unique event and nothing of its magnitude could ever happen again, when in fact it is happening again in the story, only with Latinos instead of Jews. The coiner of the term himself has said comparisons like this (i.e. modern mass murders with the Holocaust) are appropriate, however. It's just when an opponent is compared with the Nazis over anything that the law actually applies.
Harsher in Hindsight: A rare In-Universe example in Triggers. After the White House is destroyed by terrorists, a character wonders what will happen to an Expy of The West Wing, considering it's set there. It continues filming, at least for the time being, a fact which is critical to the plot.
Have a Gay Old Time: Averted in Starplex when one of the aliens aboard the spaceship suggests naming the newly-discovered dark matter creatures "darkies", but is quickly shot down by the humans.
Hollywood Atheist: Discussed in Triggers, where the US President is a closet atheist. Following from numerous terrorist attacks in the US, culminating with his own near-assassination, he decides to destroy Pakistan with nuclear missiles for harboring terrorists. An old woman finds out about his nonbelief and this plan, trying to convince him that doing so will not only cause him to be viewed as a monster, but later people would say only an atheist could have ever done such a terrible thing (he had planned to admit his atheism after leaving the White House). Also averted by Caitlin and her dad in WWW Trilogy. Both are simply nice, ordinary people. Sawyer is himself an atheist, and thus averts this in his works.
Humans Are White: Sawyer makes a specific point to avert this in his work, and explains that it's why he specifies even white characters' race, so readers are clear about it.
Informed Attribute: The Wreeds in Calculating God supposedly evolved brain structures that are incapable of comprehending numbers larger than 46, but to whom the solutions to ethical quandaries that vex humans are as obvious and self-evident as simple arithmetic are to us. When they're asked to actually answer our ethical quandaries, however, they're unable to, just as there's no way to explain mathematical truths in a way they're capable of understanding, so we never get to hear their insights.
Lightspeed Leapfrog: "On the Shoulders of Giants" would more accurately be called "relativistic leapfrog", since no FTL travel occurs, but the effect is the same. The colonists arrive in a sleeper ship at about 1% of the speed of light, and find out their intended planet is already colonized and thriving. Fortunately, they manage to convince the colony to give them a relativistic ship to carry sleepers to head for the Andromeda galaxy.
Noodle Incident: In the epilogue of Frameshift, set 13 years after the conclusion of the main portion, the USA is said to have 51 states. This has absolutely no bearing on the plot, and what state was added is never mentioned.
The orangutan joke in Quantum Night.
Not Actually the Ultimate Question: A Running Gag in one chapter of Rollback features Don and Lenore going out to a fancy restaurant while discussing whether to go through with the titular procedure. A waiter repeatedly asks them if they've decided yet, and they repeatedly tell him they haven't. Eventually, the two of them agree to go through with it and tell the waiter they've made their decision, only to realize they don't actually know what they're ordering for lunch yet.
Outgrown Such Silly Superstitions: Subverted with the Neanderthals in The Neanderthal Parallax books, who never had a concept of an afterlife or gods to begin with due to different brain structures (though played straight with the finale of the trilogy, when a magnetic pole reversal affects humans' minds by first stimulating then eliminating paranormal, mystical or religious beliefs. With them gone, peace breaks out in the Middle East, among other improvements).
Phlebotinum Killed the Dinosaurs: End Of An Era features time travelers who pop into the end of the Cretaceous to discover that Earth's gravity was purposefully modified by Martians in order to breed biological war machines (aka dinosaurs) against a fifth planet in the Solar System orbiting between Mars and Jupiter. In the end, the scientists cause the KT Extinction Event by turning off the anti-gravity generators, simultaneously killing off both the dinosaurs and the Martians. Essentially, phlebotinum created the dinosaurs. Taking it away killed them.
Portal Network: Starplex features a network of portal points spanning the entire universe. All the points begin dormant but come online whenever something touches them. Sometimes they're opened by random debris, but most are activated deliberately by advanced civilizations. The points are only detectable using subspace technology, which means no race can activate its point and join the galactic community until it reaches the technical level of at least basic FTL. It actually turns out that the points are time portals, created by engineers from the future so they could visit the past. The fact that they're spatially connected, facilitating galactic commerce and infrastructure, is really just a side effect.
Powder Keg Crowd: Taken Up to Eleven in Quantum Night where riots in Winnipeg over the Jets losing the Stanley Cup Finals escalate into a lengthy series of riots across Canada and eventually parts of the US. This spurs a psychopathic US President, already miffed that Canada elected a Muslim PM, to invade and annex the country. Russia then sends troops to "liberate" the Canadians, and the world comes within a hair's breadth of nuclear war.
Religion Is Right: Though an atheist himself who has shown atheism and religious skepticism positively, Sawyer also portrays religion as being true in some of his books. In The Terminal Experiment, scientific proof of the soul is found, uniting with God at death. Calculating God shows the universe was created, but not much about the creator(s).
Religion Is Wrong: The Neanderthal Parallax reveals that religion (and mystical beliefs generally) is simply the result of magnetic rays affecting people's brains. After the magnetic field around earth reverses polarity, these beliefs at first flare up, and then disappear, causing improvements like peace in the Middle East.
Apparently, several of Sawyer's novels exist In-Universe in other novels. For instance, in Triggers, one character quotes Calculating God, while in The Neanderthal Parallax, one character recalls reading a serialized version of Illegal Alien and notes how the situation there is different than what is going on at that moment. In Quantum Night, a story about a biomedical engineer finding scientific proof of the human soul is mentioned-i.e. the plot of his The Terminal Experiment.
He also seems fond of working in references to the Flashforward TV show.
The Social Darwinist: The Tosoks justify their genocidal actions this way, saying that if they aren't divine creations and with their periodic hybernations leaving them vulnerable to sneak attacks, it is simply "survival of the fittest" to attack and kill other species preemptively (with the exception of the faction that Hask and Seltar are from, who try to stop it).
Stay with the Aliens: In Calculating Godthe aliens take the main character, who happens to be dying of cancer, with them.
Strawman Political: Jock, a conservative former consultant with the RAND Institute in The Neanderthal Parallax, goes from expressing skepticism over the Neanderthals to attempting their genocide. Meanwhile in Quantum Night, we have a right-wing US President who's quite Islamophobic, turns out to be a psychopath, and eventually invades Canada. Not to mention a Texas governor who passed a law removing all legal rights for illegal aliens (which is ridiculously unconstitutional), sparking their mass murders. That, plus the Georgia jury who believe in capital punishment and (even if not everyone agrees on that) reacts in understandable horror after learning the main character (called by the defense to show the defendant is a psychopath, thus he couldn't help killing) favors infanticide for disabled babies.
Turing Test: Subverted in the WWW Trilogy, where an AI emergent from mutant web packets with a damaged time-to-life counter is proven to be intelligent on account of how it fails the Turing test.
More accurately, it proved that it/he actually was an AI rather than a human with a really good internet connection who was up to something. The AI in The Terminal Experiment, Mindscan and Red Planet Blues pass automatically, since they are copies of human minds.
Villain Has a Point: Willem Van Dyke (in Red Planet Blues) and Original!Jacob (in Mindscan) both use violent and illegal tactics to get what they want, but some readers may feel they have a point in their opposition to Brain Uploading on ethical grounds. It's not viewed that way In-Universe, though. This is true of Tyler as well, though at least he uses the legal system to fight the upload version of his mother for her estate.
What Measure Is a Non-Human?: In Red Planet Blues and Mindscan the claim is made that humans who upload their minds into android bodies are not people afterward, on the belief they have no souls, which in Mindscan is answered by asking "How do you know they don't have them?" Red Planet Blues just treats this as a quaint religious idea that most people don't bother with. A deeper reading leads some readers to think the Strawman Has a Point, however, even if most of the characters disagree.