Factoring Humanity Paperback – Nov 21 2003
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Factoring Humanity will undoubtedly satisfy Sawyer fans, as well as those looking for positive-future scenarios à la Carl Sagan's Contact. Rather than a galactic vision of war and peace, this novel is localized in the extreme: the plot revolves around Heather, a psychology professor struggling to decipher extraterrestrial messages, and her estranged husband, Kyle, on the brink of the biggest computer science breakthrough of all time. What makes Factoring Humanity work is that Sawyer deals with vast ideas such as alien contact, quantum mechanics, and the human overmind, but does so to a deeply personal effect.
Sawyer, like many writers of near-future science fiction, has an unfortunate tendency to be too rooted in today, to make so many casual references to our present that they draw undue attention to themselves, making it difficult for the reader to suspend disbelief. This fascination with 20th-century pop culture crowds the real story and real details into a corner and underscores an apparent lack of creativity in painting future landscapes. Otherwise, and forgiving Sawyer's breathtakingly myopic view of Native Canadians and rather bland prose, this is exciting, readable science fiction that will take you where no one has gone before--and you'll never forget the ending. --Jhana Bach --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Publishers Weekly
It's the personal implications of first contact that Sawyer (Illegal Alien) dramatizes in his disturbing and uneven new novel. Set in Canada, circa 2017, the story focuses on Heather and her computer-scientist husband, Kyle, who have separated following the suicide of their daughter Mary. When younger daughter Rebecca confronts her parents and accuses her father of molesting her, the family starts to shake apart. Redemption comes in the unlikely form of alien altruism: the messages from Alpha Centauri that psychologist Heather has studied for years prove to be blueprints for a "psychospace" device that enables her to see into the overmind of humanity, and to know anyone's deepest thoughts. In a flash, Kyle is exonerated, Rebecca apologizesAand her nasty, manipulative therapist is blamed for the false accusation. Although the novel ends with Heather greeting the first starship from Alpha Centauri, the bulk of the plot centers around the family's own mystery, and so the conclusion comes off as anti-climactic. Sawyer also includes too many digressions about the cultural significance of Seinfeld, Star Trek bloopers and quantum physics, delivering a tale that ultimately works more as a study of the human heart than as believable story of alien encounter. (June) FYI: Sawyer, whose The Terminal Experiment won the 1995 Nebula for Best Novel, was recently elected president of the Science Fiction Writers of America.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top Customer Reviews
Heather Davis is a Psychology professor at the University of Toronto. Her husband, Kyle Graves, experiments with Artificial Intelligence and quantum mechanics at the same university. Their marriage has been strained by tragedy, and shattered with their youngest daughter's allegations of sexual abuse. Both are devastated by loss and throw themselves into their work. Heather's project is particularly intriguing.
Every 31 hours and 51 minutes like clockwork, a new data message is received from space. Its origin, a planet orbiting Alpha Centauri A. Heather and her colleagues around the world work at translating the messages without success, until one day she stumbles onto the key. Quantum physcs, mathematical equations, and parallel universes play a part in the mystery. First Heather and then Kyle is drawn into the conundrum with world changing results. Will the messages from space unlock the mysteries of the human mind? And will they be a path to healing or total annihilation of the human race?
As in every novel by this author, the underlying technology is first rate and the characters well defined. Long time fans of Sawyer will love Factoring Humanity, and new readers of his work will understand why he wins Hugo and Nebula Awards.
Sawyer touches on a wide assortment of issues: AI, quantum computers, the meaning of being human, and many more - all tied together with suspense and intrigue.
At times, the book gets a bit too "new-agey" perhaps, and I found the drama to reach points of corniness. Moreover, it was several times suggested that Cheetah was to clearly an Ai and not human, yet "he" acted with such feeling and apparent emotion that Sawyer seemed wildly inconsistent on this point.
On the whole, I really enjoyed this novel. I may be biased since it is located not only in the city in which I live, but at the University of Toronto, where I study. So it is fun to read a book where I can identify all the locations (though he forgot about the Catholic seminary also being associated with the University). A fun read!
Strong view of humanity's short attention span aside, in "Factoring Humanity" the signal is finally deciphered by one Heather Davis, whose family life is falling to pieces (one of her daughters has committed suicide, and her marriage is nearly destroyed). When she discovers what this signal means, she is left with a knowledge that allows her to do some extraordinary thigns - and yet, in a very human way, this heroine doesn't go save the world, she takes a step inward to try and save her family.
This is Sawyer at his best: his usual multiple-level story, with an exceptional character base, some good philosophy (Carl Jung's collective unconscious features in "Factoring Humanity" quite centrally), a potential murder, the troubles of advanced technology, and above it all, looming, the notion that we're not alone after all - and are we about to meet friends, or enemies?
I reccommend Sawyer regardless of which title you pick up, but if one of those titles happens to be "Factoring Humanity," "Flashforward" or "Calculating God," then you're in the top-three of his calibre. Whatever few foibles are in this particular novel, they're just that: few, and not enough to derail the story. There's some great in-character exploration of the alien knowledge, and the story itself makes one think.
With the accusation voiced, the relationship ofwife-husband-daughter becomes the book's focus. The alien signal isalmost shunted aside until Heather stumbles on the key to themessages. Although not versed in mathematics, she works out thestructure of the signal and acts on the results. And who provides theclue allowing her to unlock the incomprehensible signal? Star Trek'sMr Spock!
For all the research Sawyer puts into his work, it seems abit strange that he's ignored biological drives. Heather's resentmentof Kyle's finding a young student attractive seems a bit overdone.Especially given that she's a trained psychologist. This lapse mightbe forgiven if the book didn't condemn the Parisian rapist whileexonerating a woman 'therapist' who's had a long career warping theminds of young women. How many men reside in jail, have had careerssmashed or families disrupted over similar false accusations? Theseelements induce suspicion that the moving force behind this book isCarolyn Clink, not Robert Sawyer [Clink is Sawyer's wife]. Only awoman could seriously suggest penile amputation of a rapist whiledisparaging her husband over an openly provocativestudent.
Reviewers disparaging Sawyer's persona in this book aremistaken. His people are staggeringly real! Only a woman such asHeather Davis would be selfish enough to use the most advancedtechnology encountered to determine her husband's guilt or innocenceof the abuse charge. Most fiction would have Kyle instantly shed hisanger over the recanted accusation.Read more ›
Most recent customer reviews
As a Canadian reader, I must say that it is often refreshing to have Canadian landmarks mentioned in fiction. However, Sawyer takes this to the extreme. Read morePublished on Oct. 22 2013 by Peter M.
Sawyer won his first Hugo for Hominids, but this was one of his earlier nominees for that award .... and it's every bit as good. Read morePublished on Dec 13 2003 by Jon Jackman
This is my fourth Sawyer book in the past month. I stumbled on 'Hominids,' having not read any science fiction in years, and was sold. Read morePublished on May 18 2003 by J Scott Morrison
Robert J. Sawyer is one of those SF authors, like Robert L. Forward (what is it with these Robert guys? Read morePublished on Sept. 16 2002 by Mike Treder
After reading Hominids, I became very intrigued by Sawyer's overall writing style. The amount of research done in writing this novel is just what I expected of him. Read morePublished on July 5 2002 by Tom Nuculovic
The basic premise of the book is interesting: a signal comes to us from space, and we have no idea what it means. One day, the signal stops. Read morePublished on Dec 2 2001 by Nadyne Richmond
This book I found was excellent. It seemlessly moulds psychology and sci-fi into a great novel. It is one for those enjoy science fiction, yet are willing to deviate a bit into the... Read morePublished on Aug. 23 2001 by kcarter
This book is classic Robert Sawyer. It has his quirky way of looking at things which certainly isn't the conventional high tech, sci-fi view. Read morePublished on Aug. 16 2000 by Donna McHugh