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Factoring Humanity [Hardcover]

Robert J. Sawyer
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)

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Book Description

31 Dec 1998

From the author of ILLEGAL ALIEN and FRAMESHIFT, more entertaining, thought-provoking, thoroughly modern SF. We gain access to the fourth dimension by deciphering an alien message and discover there the Overmind that links us all.

Heather Davis, a psychologist, deciphers the alien message. She lives alone since her younger daughter, Rebecca, recently moved out. Her eldest child, Mary, killed herself a year ago. After that, she and her husband Kyle Graves, a researcher working on quantum computing, separated because neither of them could handle the grief, but they do not plan to stay apart forever.

But they are driven further apart by Rebecca’s sudden, astonishing accusation of child sexual abuse against her father, with the further unspoken but crystal clear accusation that he abused Mary as a child also and that Mary killed herself because of it. Though Heather tries not to, she gives the idea credence…

When she breaks through to the fourth dimension and the Overmind, she is able to prove first to herself and then to her daughter Becky that Kyle is completely innocent: Becky, and Mary before her, are victims of the same psychologist, an abuse victim herself, who has planted false memories.

Thus the Overmind abolishes subjectivity and related error at a stroke. History moves beyond debate and falsehood. And even before Heather goes public with her discovery (after sharing it with her family), a wave of empathy washes through the world as the alien Overmind at last makes contact.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 350 pages
  • Publisher: St Martin's Press (31 Dec 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312864582
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312864583
  • Product Dimensions: 21.1 x 14.5 x 3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 2,111,606 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Robert J. Sawyer has been described as Canada's answer to Michael Crichton. Critically acclaimed in the US he is regarded as one of SF's most significant writers and his novels are regularly voted as fan's favourites. He lives in Canada.

Product Description

Amazon Review

Receiving a message from another, alien civilisation is not enough; you have then to decode it. Heather and her husband Kyle once tried to make sense of the message's geometric riddles and set it aside. It is when she is torn apart by her daughter's accusations of child abuse--she loses whether Kyle is a monster or Rebecca deluded--that Heather tries again, and has a wacky idea born of desperation. Perhaps she needs to get closer to the problem; perhaps she needs literally to get inside it. And when she does, she finds more riddles--just how to cope with knowing the whole truth about everyone and everything? Is this why an old boyfriend committed suicide? Is this an alien kindness, or a trap? Sawyer's novel has its betraying touches of modishness and melodrama, but it also has the charm that comes from good sense convincingly exhibited. If the fate of humanity is to be decided, it is always better done by someone as likeable as Sawyer's Heather. Science is not necessarily best done in an ivory tower; Sawyer is insightful on the way good work is done in the middle of crisis and the everyday. --Roz Kaveney --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From the Back Cover

By the nebula award winner

For ten years alien data has been pouring in from the Alpha Centauri system, but political protocol has, so far, prevented any response being made. And so far only the first eleven pages of the material has been decoded successfully…

…Psychologist Heather Davis is working on it, but when she suddenly breaks through to the heart of the message, she finds herself in the fourth dimension. She is part of the Overmind and experiencing a massive dose of the first true empathy the human race has ever been granted. It's her personal life and history she thereby learns about. Meanwhile, a warning to all evolved lifeforms awaits interpretation. It may even be a threat…

"Excellent, innovative and imaginative"
'The Washington Post'

"The sense of fun and adventure SF had in its so-called Golden Age… a modern sensibility… the best of both worlds"
'The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction'

"Canada's answer to Michael Crichton"
'Montreal Gazette'

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A stimulating and thoroughly engrossing read 7 July 1999
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
I've never read one of Robert Sawyer's books before, but this one grabbed my attention, just from reading the back cover. The story intertwines human emotional conflict and cutting-edge scientific knowledge to produce a conclusion that is both satisfying to the morals of the reader and generates an enormous sense of awe. The only comparison I can make is with William Gibson's Neuromancer - where Case can move through the 'Matrix' and enter the eyes of his associate. When Heather moves through 'psychospace' the narrative is perfect to express the disembodiment and diversity of the journey (and of the people she meets).
I was truly sorry to finish this book. It kept me gripped from the first page, and I just didn't want it to end.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Outstanding 29 Aug 2007
Format:Paperback
What a mix of concepts - quantum physics, seti, mathematics, first contact, the nature of consciousness, 4-d geometry, false accusations of child sexual abuse, marriage, viability of strong ai, humanity... And all that populated by characters you end up caring about. He certainly packs it in, recommended!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent 29 Dec 1999
Format:Paperback
A really gripping tale that really draws you into the story and the characters. The characters are well written and believable. I really enjoyed this book and could not put this one down.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Factoring Humanity ... 22 Feb 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
... "Factoring Robert J. Sawyer" would be an excellent book if anyone could ever write this, though I suspect it would be a complex novel. This book 'Factoring Humanity' is excellent, please read it - enough said. I would rather spend my time promting the author rather than his individual works. Buy anything of his and I believe that if you have the slightest interst in SF, fundamental science (nothing too heavy) or just darn good story telling then you will be hooked by this author. And, that is where we all benefit. Hopefully the more people that show an interest in RJS' work, then the more he will be prompted to produce - though his offerings are quite prodigious already. Recommend: Flash Foward, Calculating God, Mindscan, WWW trilogy, Neanderthal Parallax trilogy and all the others, Illegal Alien, etc.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 3.7 out of 5 stars  54 reviews
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb hard science and a blazing pageturner 3 May 2000
By Rob - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Mass Market Paperback
I read this book in one night. I could not put it down, nor sleep. Every chapter drew me into the next and I was hopelessly lost to the real world for a fabulous evening. I felt that the family issues added a level of realism that often sci-fi lacks in its concern for high minded ideals and ultra big pictures.
My only qualm with this book was that Heather (the main character) seemed to have an unrealistically uncanny ability to make intuitive discovery after discovery that no single human likely would be capable of making by themselves, let alone in a matter of mere hours or days. In that sense it seemed forced, although if one is willing to forgive Mr Sawyer that one transgression, this book can easily be included amongst the best of the genre.
Something I found particularly satisfying was the breadth of future hard-scientific inquiry touched on. Everything from Quantum theory, Jungian overmind concepts, the nature of morality and god, defining characteristics of humanity, the future of AI's, and many other topics are addressed and add well to the plot. I heartily recommend this book to all sci-fi fans!
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Near-future SF can still have really big ideas 10 April 2000
By Peter Dowling - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Mass Market Paperback
Sawyer seems to like writing about the near future --- say, 10 to 20 years down the road. The effect is to ground his work in the everyday, in settings people can easily grasp. The setting of this novel, at the University of Toronto, should be familiar to anyone who has ever attended (or taught!) at a big city university. The details of academic life ring true ... but even more so do the details of Sawyer's characters personal lives, despite the horrific things that happen to them. Of course, this is SCIENCE fiction, and there's plenty of science, too: quantum computing, artificial intelligence, SETI (indeed, the SETI subplot, really relatively minor, is quite wonderful, especially for any fan of Alan Turing), and more. And the ending has that "sense of wonder" that is the hallmark of the best SF from the classic age. I've also read Sawyer's FLASHFORWARD, and gave that five stars, too, but between the two, this is my favourite, although both are excellent novels. Enjoy!
14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good Enough to Read 5 July 2000
By Richard Tyler - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Mass Market Paperback
I read this book on a flight from Atlanta to Seattle, and it was perfect for the environment: short enough to finish in six hours, engaging enough to keep the pages flipping, and not so complex as to require more concentration than is possible on an airplane. As an alternative to the usual Clancy/Steele/Grisham airplane fare it was first-rate, as a Great Novel of Science Fiction, it was OK.
First, the bad news. The characterizations are flat and thin, with more revealed in internal dialogue than in actions. For example, our protagonist has his wife and two children ripped from him in different ways, but we are only told of his anguish. His actions in the story do not show it, although I did enjoy the scene when he asked his AI for moral comfort and support.
On the other hand, good science fiction rarely seems to also be great literature. Sawyer plays with cool ideas: quantum computers, the fourth dimension, artificial intelligence, the nature of "mind", recovered memories, and teenage angst (I find teenage angst the most difficult to understand). With so much deep thinking go on there is not much time left for finely detailed characterization.
"Factoring Humanity" seems to be a tribute to the great themes of science fiction. You get thinking machines with conscience ("I, Robot" and the other Asimov "Robot" stories, "With Folded Hands", "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress"), fun with tesseracts ("A Wrinkle in Time", "He Built a Crooked House"), and alien first contact (and sending construction plans via radio, as in "Contact").
First and foremost, it was a good read with lots of page-flipping interest. Recommended.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Contact-lite 5 Jan 2005
By James Tepper - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This is the third R.J. Sawyer book I've read recently (the others were Calculating God and End of an Era). Obviously I liked the others enough to keep going. And this was my favorite of the lot. I rated them all at 3 stars, but this one is really more like 3.5 or 3.75, but the rating scale is of limited resolution.

So too is the science in his fiction. Sawyer does not write "hard SF". It's more like hard SF-lite. This one borrowed heavily from Sagan's "Contact" (which was hard SF, par exemplar, and also had great character development and deep philosophical implications on several levels, but I digress..) and dabbles a bit in 4 dimensional geometry, quantum computing and cosmic consciousness. The characters are sort of ill-defined (except for the AI who seemed deeper and more human than the homo sapiens), which seems a hallmark of the 3 Sawyer books I have read, but the plot keeps things moving, also a Sawyer hallmark. I think if you expect Sawyer to be the next great writer in hard SF you are in for a disappointment. But if you want an enjoyable light read that has just a bit of science in the fiction, Sawyer is your guy for plot-driven page-turners. I will try at least a few more of his.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Real SF in the Arthur C. Clarke mode 8 Oct 1999
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Mass Market Paperback
Another reader, below, makes the incredible comment that he was wondering when the "sci-fi" would begin. For Pete's sake, it begins on page 1, line 1, with "The messages from space had been arriving for ten years now." By the end of chapter two, we're introduced to one of the best AI characters I've ever encountered. Not SF? Ridiculous -- this is PURE SF. New Age? Quite the contrary -- it's an ANTIDOTE to New Age thinking. This is a truly excellent read.
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