on 27 June 2014
I originally bought this book to support the DRM-free stance of Robert J Sawyer and have now finally gotten round to reading it, so here's an updated review.
Like FlashForward, it's quite the emotional melodrama with a few tearjerking moments and it's a bit of a love story too, none of which I really go for. Having said that, it's very well written and easy to read. Most importantly, the science fiction part of the story is plausible and well thought out, with Sawyer having clearly researched his subjects where he refers to real life events, aliens, places and things, including the science stuff.
Really, the story isn't so much about human-alien contact as much as it's a "what if?" about how a rollback would affect interpersonal relationships over a long period of time and I think Sawyer does a good job of it, with the scenarios being very plausible.
The book was wonderfully typo-free - I didn't spot even one and perfect grammar! This makes for a very refreshing change, as many newer authors have typos galore in their books, which really spoils their work, even if the story is good and makes their work look unprofessional and sloppy. A book like this proves that it doesn't have to be this way if the author takes pride in his work and cares about his readers. One can see why Sawyer has won so many writers' awards with the quality of his writing.
With today's modern technology and services, it's not difficult to have a book properly proofread and typo-free, so there's no excuse for it. Well done Sawyer!
That this book comes without DRM was the icing on the cake and I look forward to reading other books by Sawyer. A well deserved 5 stars due to the typo-free high quality writing and the DRM-free stance of the author.
ORIGINAL REVIEW 27.06.14
I've literally just seen the book and bought it, having no idea what it's like other than I like previous stories from this author (FlashForward especially). Why? Because the author has specifically asked for the shackles of Digital Rights Management (DRM) not to be applied to this book.
Collectively, this sends an important message about not abusing your customers with DRM and helps to apply pressure to remove it, over time. Hence, I urge as many people as possible to buy products without DRM, whether they be books, software, music or movies wherever possible. When you do, please try to write a comment like this too, if you can.
on 4 January 2012
Sawyer's stories are usually good fun to read. This is no exception. This time around there are two issues looked at. The first, the bones on which the story hangs, is about how SETI might work and its philosophical underpinnings. There is perhaps a bit too much earnest explanation from the characters in some occasionally ropey dialogue.
Far more interesting, however, is that it is also a meditation on the consequences of medical technology: in brief summary, after 60 years of happy marriage, a couple undergo a new medical procedure to rejuvenate them, supposed to return them to how they were when aged 25, but it only works on one of them.
The book approximately alternates chapters between exploring SETI and exploring rejuvenation, and of the two interwoven streams, that of rejuvenation is by far the most interesting, but it could not stand without the other without losing its immediate accessibility. It is this exploration of the ramifications of plausible but as-yet-non-existent technology that marks great sci-fi.
on 8 April 2007
You have to be a certain age before you will consider whether you want to be young again and live your life again. Sarah and Don are octogenarians and, after a full and contented life with children and grandchildren, have options to change their lives that we rarely dream of. However, Sarah, Dr. Halifax, is not just anybody. She is a well-known scientist who, back in 2009, had deciphered the first message from Sigma Draconis, a star system some nineteen light years away from Earth. Now, thirty-eight years later, the response to Earth's message is received and nobody can break the encryption code. Can Sarah do it again and will she live long enough to make it happen?
Cody McGavin, chief of a robotics company and always on the lookout for new technological discoveries is one the richest people around. He is convinced that Sarah is vital to decoding the message now and also for future message exchanges with "her Dracon pen pal". It is 2048 and, thanks to a process of DNA resequencing and some other "tuck" jobs, it has become possible to literally roll back a person's biological body to the prime of their life, around age 25. The procedure is experimental and only for the super-rich, like McGavin himself. He is willing to pay for Sarah to have this chance at another lifespan. It's not something she accepts lightly, insisting that her husband of 60 years, Don, is included in the offer. They both undergo the procedure which is successful for Don but not for her.
While in Sawyer's previous bestseller, Mindscan, life could be extended thanks to copying a complete brain map onto the bionic body, in Rollback advances in medicine are the solution. Here the ethical question is not so much who is the real person, but how do you harmonize an octogenarian brain with a 25-year old physique? Can you relive your life without stumbling over history? How do grandchildren deal with a grandfather who is much younger than their own parents? How do friends and former colleagues react? And, above all, how does this gap influence the relationship between husband and wife? Can it survive at all?
Leave it to Robert Sawyer to pack his speculative fiction with deep philosophical questions and topics for debate. Rejuvenation is but one of these. If humans can recreate themselves to live, maybe forever, are humans in fact playing God? How do people and societies cope with that? Cosmic communication is another major theme. The first message that Sarah had decoded was in effect a detailed questionnaire about Earth's peoples' perspectives on life and society. Why do they want to know? What do you tell aliens about human society? Do you tell the truth or do you present Earth in the best light possible? How to answer moral and philosophical conundrums? The range of the Dracons' questions probe deeply into the human psyche, testing its integrity.
The narrative moves between timelines of 2048, to previous milestones in the couple's life, mostly through Don's pondering his memories. There was Sarah's work with the SETI (Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence) project that led to the first transmission from Earth into the universe. Her discovery of the code that deciphered the Sigma Draconis message and the complex organization of the reply. Don, a TV and radio producer for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), was a good and patient dialogue partner for his wife. Through their conversations, played back in Don's mind, the reader can follow multiple strands of arguments about the worth of SETI, astronomy, genetics and more.
Sawyer has referred to Rollback as a "phi-fi" novel - a philosophical novel. The book's events are strongly anchored in current scientific knowledge. It speculates on possible future scenarios in fields like medicine and inter-stellar communication. Yet, this is also very much a human interest story. Sawyer has created memorable characters and realistic environments in which their lives unfold. It will fascinate the fan of Sawyer's sci-fi books as much as the general reader who is interested in a well written story that raises questions some of which we might pose ourselves already today. [Friederike Knabe]
on 24 May 2010
Rollback is the follow-up novel of Mindscan. In Rollback there is a second extraterrestrial message, and again it is up to Sarah Halifax to decipher it. The problem now is, however, that she is 38 years older and not in the best of health anymore. She is offered a rejuvenation process, to give her more time, which she accepts provided her husband is given the treatment as well. The irony is then that the treatment does not work for her, but it does for her husband. Moreovoer, having his youth and his sexual desires restored makes him cheat on his wife. Some reviewers have written they don't like this about the book, because it makes him such an unpleasant character. It seems to me that this means that also Sarah is an unpleasant character, as she says that she would not only have done the same, but even have left her husband if the roles would have been reversed. Maybe we would like those characters to do the morally just thing, but I wonder how realistic that really is. As far as the message is concerned, Sarah does manage to decipher it before she dies, but she does not get to see what that leads to.
on 22 February 2013
Robert J. Sawyer is definately worth a read! All of his work - not just this book. Rollback is yet another example of Sawyer's excellent style. He presents an idea, then totally sells that idea to you through his writtings. Concepts that I could never conceive, are stored up in abundance within this particular storytellers mind. Unusual concepts, but ones that he convincese you are attainable. He then draws you in step by step with scientific theories and knowledge that have obviously been very well researched. Then, when you are there living the story in his mind, eagerly even hungerly flicking through the pages, he will have a twist sat there waiting or a concept that you just could not see or consider. Read this it is great, then read Factoring Humanity, then like me, read as much as you can get your hands on. His early stuff is good, this is great and he continues to develope - the WWW trilogy (Watch, Wake, Wonder) are his lastest offerings and they are just the next step in this awesome authors development. Thank you RJS.
on 12 October 2008
Sarah Halifax has the knack of de-coding Alien transmissions, but since those transmissions are 38 years apart she goes through an age rejuvenation program known as ROLLBACK.
And as a bonus she gets the authorities to put her husband on ROLLBACK too.
Sadly, only Don's is successful, and suddenly Sarah remains in her eighties whereas Don is now physically a 25 year old.
Sawyer's Hugo and Nebula award winning novel unwraps the almighty problems that gradually evolve between the couple, with the paramount importance of answering the alien message always hovering in the background.
An entertaining read, and an absorbing introduction to an alien concept - it was a worthy start to my holiday reading.
One of science's more frustrating endeavours has been the quest to find other intelligent species. Dolphins and whales communicate with squeaks, while chimpanzees and orang utans use tools for various purposes - usually dinner. This is doubly tantalising - humans aren't all that unique, but neither of these lifeforms offers much in the way of philosophical dialogue. The Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence was founded a half-century ago to search elsewhere for somebody to talk to. The search was among the stars.
In this well-conceived and executed tale, Robert J. Sawyer has speculated on the possible results of "listening in" on the Cosmos. A major problem in interstellar communication is that distance equals time. If a planet circling a star 18.8 light years distant wants to chat, it's 37.6 years between responses. SETI had triggered a "first contact" which was translated by Canadian astronomer Sarah Halifax and a reply transmitted. Now, nearly four decades later, whoever lives near Sigma Draconis has answered back. For some reason, the "Dracons" have encrypted the message. Sarah is in her eighties, yet it's clear that she's the best candidate to deal with the new message. At her age can she cope with the intense labour involved in the exercise?
Help is at hand from the science studying aging. An entrepreneur interested in SETI has agreed to fund the means to extend Sarah's life so that she can work on the encrypted message. Sarah, and her husband Don will have their aged bodies "rolled back" to a more youthful physical age. It's like starting life over with almost endless possibilities. The "rollback" process, though tried on only a couple of hundred people, is "foolproof". But while it works on Don, it fails on the person needing it most - Sarah.
Sawyer examines the many practical and philosophical issues surrounding the possibility of extended life. The first, and most obvious, is where Don's restored libido might lead him. Another aspect is the realisation that age may bring wisdom, but what is its worth in terms of employability. Moore's Law says computer power will double every 18 months. Translate that into terms a man retired for twenty years confronts when he seeks a job. Rollback is an expensive process - not everybody can afford it. How does a man deal with his children who are "older" than he and that he's certain to outlive? These are the types of questions Sawyer has a superlative talent in posing and addressing. His ability to develop real characters who must deal with such issues is without peer. Underlying these capabilities is a firm foundation in the relevant sciences. "Rollback" may be speculative, but only in the narrowest definition of the term. Sawyer didn't place this story only a generation in the future just to avoid extravagant surroundings. The science he depicts is almost there. Only the Dracons are missing . . . [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]
For nit-pickers: The question of how Don's brain, which has been adjusting to his advancing years, would react to the sudden reversal of the remainder of the body's effective age to 25. Whatever the results to his libido, there's as good an argument for his going insane as there is for Sawyer's scenario of the resetting of his chronological clock. Yet another philosophical question raised by this excellent author. - sah
I really do like Mr Sawyer's books, but the 'formula' is getting tiresome. It's not a plot formula that leaves me weary - it's the pacing.
I always think the premise sounds great. Always. I can't wait to start and the first part is great and fairly rips along, forcing me to spin through the pages. Then around the middle it all drops a gear and starts flagging as it reaches towards the conclusion. However, I plow on to the ending and it starts to pick up again, but only briefly because before I know it.....it's the end and I'm left thinking, "Hang on..Wait.... No. What?"
Although the book -like his others - is deemed sci-fi, it's still within the realms of 'maybe that could happen' but the ending just left me with a WTH moment, which I also find is my common reaction to Mr Sawyer's books. Sometimes in a good way, sometimes not. This is a not so good moment.
I wasn't fond of Don much either, which didn't help. I'm not saying I only like books featuring nice people but surely just because he ends up physically younger doesn't mean he's leaping in and out of bed with the first piece of baggage to flap her eyelashes at him. All the while his loving wife of umpteen years is sitting at home watching his dinner burn. It just doesn't make sense. His history with his wife must count for something and his mental age must mean he's got more sense. Maybe it's true what they say about guy's in that age group though and his brains were in his trousers.
It sounds like I didn't like it, I know, but I did really. I'd even go so far as to say I'd recommend it. It's a quick and fairly gentle sci-fi read and the sort of book that you come away from thinking about how you would react in that situation. But go into it prepared for his usual pacing and 'out there' conclusion and you won't be disappointed.
on 8 May 2009
This novel has a fascinating idea at its core: the possibility of turning back a body clock and restoring someone to physical youth (age 25) while retaining their psychological age (age 87).
Unfortunately, I found Sawyer's exploration of this idea two-dimensional and unconvincing, mainly because of the lack of character depth or psychological realism. The characters behaved in bizarre ways without any explanation and their behaviour was often contradictory. A lack of psychological realism is always annoying but it was a major shortcoming for this book because it became impossible to explore the underlying conflict between physical and mental age in any convincing or meaningful way.
The other annoying thing about the book was the really unpleasant way in which the main character acted. This is fine in some cases - I certainly do not need a perfect protagonist to enjoy a book. However, if an author chooses a main character whose morally dubious actions make him difficult to empathise with then surely the interest lies in exploring the impact of those actions on others? Instead it feels as though Sawyer simply glosses over the moral issue by giving his main character a "get-out-of-jail-free card" through a cheap and uncovincing plot device (in chapter 33 for anyone interested).
That said, this book was a real page-turner. It had a gripping plot and touched on some fascinating ideas and good philosophical discussions. The three-star rating is perhaps unfair, as it is based on other Sawyer novels, deserving of four or five stars, rather than books I have read in general (although characterization is never his strongest point). I was certainly never bored but I did come away irritated and feeling as though so much more could have been done with what was fundamentally a great idea.
a new novel from science fiction writer robert j sawyer. his books usually are near future set and feature characters going through life changes against a background of cutting edge scientific advances and discoveries. and this one is no exception.
It's s stand alone novel complete in roughly 312 pages. the book is in two parts, and the first part runs for 95 pages.
the plot: [some of this may seem like a spoiler but it's all on the back of the book so it's not anything you won't learn should you get it]
don and sarah are a happily married couple in their eighties. the latter is famous for having successfully decoded a message from aliens years before. and now the world has received a reply to the reply that was sent back then. sarah could help decode it, but to give her the time to do it she is offered a medical treatment that de ages people. she insists on don getting it as well. it works on him. but not her. can the couple survive the age difference that has resulted? and can sarah decode the message?
don and sarah are good and quite likeable characters and their relationship is well portrayed in very readable prose. the narrative does flash back and forward a lot, flashbacks dealing with the time when she deocded the original message. the effect of the age difference is well portrayed and the characterisation is strong here. don does some things that may seem like the wrong decision and you can feel aghast with him doing those but you'll want to read on to know what happens next anyway.
the middle of the book does rather heavily concentrate on the relationship, the decoding of the new message lurking in the background rarely mentioned. and whilst the character story was very good I did feel I wanted to get back to dealing the message. But it all comes together very well in the last sixty pages, the truth about the new message being nicely unexpected.
there are a good few thought provoking moral debates on the way as well. the writing never lectures you but makes you think about them for yourself. which is the best way to do it.
a decent and quite memorable read all in all. it does contain a couple of bits of strong language and some adult situations so it may not be entirely suitable for younger readers