Sunday, 22 September 2019

Rollback by Robert J. Sawyer

This morning I finished reading Rollback by Robert J. Sawyer.

Dr. Sarah Halifax decoded the first-ever radio transmission received from aliens. Thirty-eight years later, a second message is received and Sarah, now 87, may hold the key to deciphering this one, too... if she lives long enough. 

A wealthy industrialist offers to pay for Sarah to have a rollback—a hugely expensive experimental rejuvenation procedure. She accepts on condition that Don, her husband of sixty years, gets a rollback, too. The process works for Don, making him physically twenty-five again. But in a tragic twist, the rollback fails for Sarah, leaving her in her eighties. 

While Don tries to deal with his newfound youth and the suddenly vast age gap between him and his wife, Sarah struggles to do again what she’d done once before: figure out what a signal from the stars contains.

It's an excellent, well thought out story. The story jumps back and forth between the time the first message was received in 2009 and 2048. In 2009 a message was received from Sigma Draconis II, a planet 18.5 light years away. Sarah was the only one who could decode it. A reply was created and sent back to the planet. Then in 2048 a reply to earth's message was received from Draconis II, only it's encrypted. 

As messages take 18.5 years to reach the far away planet and another 18.5 years for the reply to be received, it's determined Sarah's expertise will always be required, so a new technology which will roll back her 87 year old body so it's 25 again is suggested. Sarah, though, will only undergo the prohibitively expensive procedure if they do the same for her husband Don. As it says above, only Don's procedure is successful.

I enjoyed the many moral discussions which take place in the book regarding a variety of topics. The story takes place in Toronto, and it was fun to see the Duke of York still exists in 2048 along with a few other companies and locations. 

It was an interesting, thought provoking story from Robert J. Sawyer.



Robert J. Sawyer is one of Canada's best known and most successful science fiction writers. He is the only Canadian (and one of only 7 writers in the world) to have won all three of the top international awards for science fiction: the 1995 Nebula Award for The Terminal Experiment, the 2003 Hugo Award for Hominids, and the 2006 John W. Campbell Memorial Award for Mindscan. 

Robert Sawyer grew up in Toronto, the son of two university professors. He credits two of his favourite shows from the late 1960s and early 1970s, Search and Star Trek, with teaching him some of the fundamentals of the science-fiction craft. Sawyer was obsessed with outer space from a young 

Sawyer graduated in 1982 from the Radio and Television Arts Program at Ryerson University, where he later worked as an instructor. Sawyer's first published book, Golden Fleece (1989), is an adaptation of short stories that had previously appeared in the science-fiction magazine Amazing Stories. This book won the Aurora Award for the best Canadian science-fiction novel in English. 

A passionate advocate for science fiction, Sawyer teaches creative writing and appears frequently in the media to discuss his genre. He prefers the label "philosophical fiction," and in no way sees himself as a predictor of the future. His mission statement for his writing is "To combine the intimately human with the grandly cosmic."

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