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Rollback (Sci Fi Essential Books) Hardcover – April 3, 2007

3.8 out of 5 stars 60 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Canadian author Sawyer (Mindscan) once again presents likable characters facing big ethical dilemmas in this smoothly readable near-future SF novel. Astronomer Sarah Halifax, who translated the first message from aliens and helped prepare humanity's response, is 87 when the second, encrypted message arrives 38 years later. To aid the decoding, a tycoon buys rejuvenation treatment for Sarah and Don, her husband of 60 years; however, only Don becomes young again. While coping with the physical indignities of old age, Sarah tries to figure out the puzzle of the second message. The bond between Don and Sarah continues, even while Don is joyfully and guiltily discovering the pleasures of living in a young body again. They want to do what's right for each other and the rest of humanity—for the aliens, too—if they can figure out what "right" could be. By its nature, a story about moral choices tends to get talky, but the talk is intelligent and performed by sympathetic and believable people. Sawyer, who has won Hugo and Nebula awards, may well win another major SF award with this superior effort. (Apr.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Sawyer's latest concerns the reply to a message sent 38 years previously, responding to an alien radio transmission. Sarah Halifax worked on the team responsible for translating the original received message, and clearly she may be vital to the second. But she and her husband have just celebrated their sixtieth anniversary, and neither expects to live much longer. A hyperwealthy benefactor offers to pay for her to have a rollback, a somewhat experimental rejuvenation process, and agrees to another for husband Don, too. The process works for Don but not for Sarah. While Don struggles with second youth, Sarah continues translating the message. Sawyer's investigation of rejuvenation--especially difficult for a man with the body of a 25-year-old married to an octogenarian--and of massively time-delayed communication with aliens loads a fascinating story with difficult issues. Don makes mistakes, yet he and Sarah are good people and thoughtfully constructed characters. Rollback exploits two staple sf tropes to produce a nicely executed, human-scale story. Regina Schroeder
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

Product Details

  • Series: Sci Fi Essential Books
  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Tor Books; 1st edition (April 3, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0765311089
  • ISBN-13: 978-0765311085
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1 x 7.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (60 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,510,534 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Robert J. Sawyer -- called "the dean of Canadian science fiction" by the OTTAWA CITIZEN and "just about the best science-fiction writer out there" by the Denver ROCKY MOUNTAIN NEWS -- is one of eight authors in history to win all three of the science-fiction field's highest honors for best novel of the year: the Hugo Award (which he won for HOMINIDS), the Nebula Award (which he won for THE TERMINAL EXPERIMENT); and the John W. Campbell Memorial Award (which he won for MINDSCAN).

Rob has won Japan's Seiun Award for best foreign novel three times (for END OF AN ERA, FRAMESHIFT, and ILLEGAL ALIEN), and he's also won the world's largest cash-prize for SF writing -- the Polytechnic University of Catalonia's 6,000-euro Premio UPC de Ciencia Ficcion -- an unprecedented three times.

In 2007, he received China's Galaxy Award for most favorite foreign author. He's also won fourteen Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy Awards ("Auroras"), an Arthur Ellis Award from the Crime Writers of Canada, ANALOG magazine's Analytical Laboratory Award for Best Short Story of the Year, and the SCIENCE FICTION CHRONICLE Reader Award for Best Short Story of the Year.

Rob's novels have been top-ten national mainstream bestsellers in Canada, appearing on the GLOBE AND MAIL and MACLEAN'S bestsellers' lists, and they've hit number one on the bestsellers' list published by LOCUS, the U.S. trade journal of the SF field.

Rob is a frequent keynote speaker at conferences, teaches SF writing occasionally, and edited his own line of Canadian science-fiction novels for Red Deer Press.

His novel FLASHFORWARD (Tor Books) was the basis for the ABC TV series of the same name. He enjoyed spending time on the set and wrote the script for episode 19 "Course Correction."

His WWW trilogy, WAKE, WATCH, and WONDER (Ace Books), is all about the World Wide Web gaining consciousness.

RED PLANET BLUES is Rob's noir detective novel about the only private detective working the mean streets of Mars. It's his most-recent novel in paperback.

Next up is Quantum Night (Ace Books), March 2016. Set in the present day, QUANTUM NIGHT is an exploration of the concept of the Philosophical Zombie: someone whose lights are on but no one is home. Sawyer posits that our population is dominated by these easily led, emotionally vacant followers. And who leads this vast mob? Psychopaths.

For more information about Rob and his award-winning books, check out his web page: http://sfwriter.com

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
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.
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Format: Hardcover
I found this book to be a huge disappointment. I had never read Sawyer before, but after hearing him interviewed on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) and reading about all the awards he has won, I expected much more. My appetite was also whetted by the intrinsically interesting themes -- rejuvenation, alien encounters, and ethics.

But Sawyer doesn't deliver. His characters that are drawn so shallowly that it's hard to develop any interest in them. And what we do find, especially in the person of Don Halifax, is a curious inconsistency. On the one hand we're supposed to believe sympathetically that he is at heart a nice guy, a good man, a human being who makes forgivable mistakes. But in fact most of the time he behaves like a jerk. He snaps at people; he cheats on his wife; he's dishonest; he's self-centered. This is a great guy?

Also annoying are the numerous little speeches that the characters make. Few people talk like that in real life. It's especially unnatural when Don and his wife, Sarah, converse about big ideas. They sound like two people in a panel discussion rather than a husband and wife chatting. This is symptomatic of a larger problem with the book: it's sprinkled with mini-essays on a variety of topics. Some readers may find these digressions interesting, but in most cases they do little to advance the story. Their chief purpose seems to be to demonstrate the author's broad command of factoids.

A few minor quibbles: There are several plot points that I expected would lead to a twist or turn, but no, they're left undeveloped. The Atkins diet is promoted shamelessly. The sex scenes are laughably flat and two-dimensional -- obviously not Sawyer's forte.
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Format: Hardcover
Serendipitously, I read most of this book on my 62nd birthday It could not have been a more appropriate read. First of all, I "enjoyed" it tremendously, if "enjoy" is the correct term for a story that made me cry so often. However, the philosophical questions and issues in this book resonated tremendously with me, even the ones that were not age-related, such as the questions of the value of a life. This type of character-driven story where real people face important life questions that are familiar to current-day readers in a context involving some kind of scientific breakthrough is just the kind of writing Sawyer does best, and he really outdid himself this time.

He neatly missed several chances to make this a pretty bad book. For an example, Peter F. Hamilton, who has written some enjoyable books, wrote a totally DREADFUL novel called Misspent Youth about the effects a man's rejuvenation has on him and the people around him. Sawyer avoided all of his mistakes.

Many writers today seem so pessimistic that it would have been easy to make the book a "downer". For example, I was very sad when one of the main characters died, but it was very consoling that the character died having accomplished a dream in life. That is all anyone today can hope for, so it seems like a pretty good second prize to me, if you miss the "brass ring" of successful rollback.

WARNING: The rest of this review contains what some may consider a "spoiler".

Sawyer could have turned Halifax's affair into something sordid, a rejuvenated man "feeling his oats", and I am glad he didn't do that, either. The story of a decent, ethical husband who is unfaithful to his wife because of very unusual circumstances and how everyone concerned deals with that is much more interesting.

I loved the robot, and I mourned and truly respected his sacrifice---would that all humans were so decent!
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