Speaking of hard SF, I’ve been reading Robert J. Sawyer’s Rollback, a novel that came out a couple years back. There is much to learn from Sawyer’s style. Here’s the jacket copy:

Dr. Sarah Halifax decoded the first-ever radio transmission received from aliens. Thirty-eight years later, a second message is received and Sarah, now 87, may hold the key to deciphering this one, too . . . if she lives long enough. A wealthy industrialist offers to pay for Sarah to have a rollback–a hugely expensive experimental rejuvenation procedure. She accepts on condition that Don, her husband of sixty years, gets a rollback, too. The process works for Don, making him physically twenty-five again. But in a tragic twist, the rollback fails for Sarah, leaving her in her eighties. While Don tries to deal with his newfound youth and the suddenly vast age gap between him and his wife, Sarah struggles to do again what she’d done once before: figure out what a signal from the stars contains.

I often hate jacket copy, but I knew I had to buy the book as soon as I read this. The blurb promises a lot of hard SF–an experimental rejuvenation procedure as well as the effort of decoding an alien transmission–and he delivers. The book has the “scientist must solve a hard problem plot” as well as “people must deal with the unintended consequences of experimentation” plot. What really elevates this book, in my opinion, is that, ultimately, it’s the story of Sarah and Don’s marriage. The story wouldn’t be happening without all this science, but the science doesn’t get in the way of Sawyer telling a personal story that feels relevant in a general human way (that transcendent quality that I talk about sometimes).

I read Sawyer’s newest novel, Wake, when it was serialized in Analog late last year, and that novel, too, had this transcendent quality. Sawyer’s published so many books that I’m surprised I wasn’t aware of him until recently. He’s definitely on my shortlist now.


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