Saturday, April 28, 2007

Rollback is Sawyer's best yet

Books now read in ’07: 36
Title: Rollback
Author: Robert J. Sawyer
Genre: Speculative Fiction
Date Completed: 4-27
Pages: 313

Chatting recently with fans of Robert Sawyer and someone says, “He writes like Asimov.” “But with better characters,” says someone else.

Yeah, that’s about got it. Sawyer’s writing does evoke Isaac Asimov, a science fiction grandmaster, on a couple of levels. The prose is inviting. Comfortable. Begging to be read. Like Asimov, Sawyer is no stylist, but he does not know how to tell a story. And, like Asimov, the science is impeccable. You won’t find Rob Sawyer confusing a parsec with a unit of time – it is a unit of distance. And his characters jump off the page, they are so well drawn.

Rollback, Sawyer’s newest book, is also his best. It is the story of Sarah and Don Halifax. Years ago Sarah achieved a minor level of fame by decoding an alien radio transmission. Now, 38 years later, the aliens have responded again, but there are complications. The message is encrypted and Sarah is now in her late 80s. A rich benefactor offers to pay for an expensive medical procedure for Sarah that will “roll back” the effects of aging. Sarah agrees if Don also receives the procedure.

He does, but in an ironic twist the procedure is successful for Don, but not for Sarah. Thus, Sawyer quickly establishes two intriguing plot lines. Married for 60 years, Don and Sarah must now cope with a new reality; physically, Don is now 25 years old, while Sarah is 87. And, despite her age, Sarah struggles to de-code the alien message.

Rollback is an eminently readable, entertaining and provocative book, exactly what his fans have come to expect from Robert Sawyer.

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