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.