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Rollback Mass Market Paperback – February 5, 2008

3.8 out of 5 stars 61 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. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Mass Market Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Tor Science Fiction; 1st edition (February 5, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0765349744
  • ISBN-13: 978-0765349743
  • Product Dimensions: 4.3 x 0.8 x 6.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (61 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,306,721 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Friederike Knabe VINE VOICE on April 8, 2007
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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