|Author:||Robert J. Sawyer|
In the near future, a signal is detected coming from the Alpha Centauri system. Mysterious, unintelligible data streams in for ten years. Heather Davis, a professor in the University of Toronto psychology department, has devoted her career to deciphering the message. Her estranged husband, Kyle, is working on the development of artificial intelligence systems and new computer technology utilizing quantum effects to produce a near-infinite number of calculations simultaneously.
When Heather achieves a breakthrough, the message reveals a startling new technology that rips the barriers of space and time, holding the promise of a new stage of human evolution. In concert with Kyle’s discoveries of the nature of consciousness, the key to limitless exploration—or the end of the human race—appears close at hand.
Sawyer has created a gripping thriller, a pulse-pounding tour of the farthest reaches of technology.
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