Book Review: Rollback

The departures screen illuminates the stark, disillusioning truth. My connecting flight’s 3 hours delayed. Ahh, what is life but for living in the confines of a great, enclosed artificial space where I can watch countless others scurry from one portal to another. Letting luck rule, I meander to the nearest news stand. Fingers slowly trace along the spines, trying to sense the faintest presence of interest. They stop, almost automatically wrapping themselves about the sole piece with promise, the science fiction novel Rollback by Robert Sawyer. This time, fortune did add a nice silver lining to what might have been a very dull wait.

Sawyer’s novel has most elements that intrigue philosophers and scientists alike. Mainly, it’s got a success to the SETI search and the aliens show themselves to be quite bright. But this is no first contact. Rather, Sawyer has the two worlds communicate across a very long time span. Certainly tricky but not impossible. A light bound message can complete a two way trip in about 40 years. Hence, it’s possible and providential that one person can discern the alien language, compose a reply and be around to read the alien’s response. Yet, Sawyer doesn’t stop there. He adds life-lengthening techniques to enable some of his characters to have the potential for much longer lives. With this, the messages become both personal and representative of all Earth. In all, by dropping aliens and the fountain of youth into the lap of an astronomy professor from the University of Toronto, he really connects the science to the fiction for this story.

And, I must admit, I quite enjoy reading a story where I can place most of the locations. Having spent a number of years in Toronto, I know of the university, the subways, many of the mentioned streets and the wonderful weather! With Sawyer placing his action in this locale, I felt right at home. But as comfortable as that made me feel, Sawyer’s story did just the opposite in raising the hairs on the back of my neck. From it, I was wondering how and even if we should communicate with aliens. Or, how would we accommodate rejuvenation where parents become physically younger than their grandchildren? These questions get woven into a busy but pleasant fictional story of the family whose one member is the communications wizard and the remainder hang on for all they’re worth.

Perhaps you too might have a few hours at hand. Or maybe you’re curious about how science can really make a normal life, extraordinary. In either case, I recommend Robert Sawyer’s book Rollback. From it, the reader will readily see that science can combine with fiction to make a compelling and interesting story.

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5 Replies to “Book Review: Rollback”

  1. Sounds like Sawyer was heavily “influenced” by the old Twilight Zone episode where an elderly couple want to undergo a procedure to place their minds in young, healthy bodies.

    But only one of them could afford the very
    expensive procedure, so the husband did it
    and it was a success. However, he quickly
    realized that his wife could never share in
    his happiness and extended life, so he had
    his mind put back in his old body.

    Sawyer’s not a bad writer, but he is no giant,
    and frankly I wish sometimes he would just write an essay on his philosophical musing than stick them in a novel where most of the characters just talk and talk and talk.

  2. Ive read the book last year. I just picked it up because I thought the plot was pretty interesting. Was hooked till the very last page. IMO its a really good book.

  3. How depressing. A published author that mangles
    the english language with:

    “My connecting flight’s 3 hours delayed.”

    as if “flight’s” is a contraction for “flight is”.


  4. In all fairness, a lot of people would say it that way, instead of speaking out the word is.

    Y’all come back now, y’hear?

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