Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Book Review: Rollback

I just finished reading "Rollback" by Robert J Sawyer.
I love RJ Sawyer's work and buy everything he writes. This, however, is one of his weaker works. It's not bad. No, not at all. It's just not what I'd recommend for his first time reader.

The term "rollback" refers to a multi-billion dollar medical procedure that can make you 25 years old again.

Nearly 40 years ago Earth picked up a signal from a planet in the Draconis constellation. All over the planet people started working on translating it. The heroine of our book made the breakthru that allowed translation of the bulk of the message. It was a survey and the aliens were asking for 1,000 randomly chosen responses to be sent back. They sent 999 random responses and one from the woman who figured it out.

18.8 light years there and 18.8 back brings us to now and another signal from the aliens. This time it's encrypted. The woman and her husband are now both very old and expecting death any day. Then a billionaire comes to her and says he thinks the aliens are incredibly long lived so he thinks she has a penpal on another world. He wants her to live long enough for another couple of signals to be exchanged. He'll pay to make her young again. She says "not without my husband". He hesitates because of the ~$10 billion a shot price tag but he wants her so he says "ok". The problem is that the procedure works for the husband but a cancer treatment she got 50 years ago means it doesn't work for her. She says 90ish while he becomes 25 again.

The bulk of the book talks about the issues they're dealing with as the husband becomes younger than his own kids, his younger brother dies, his wife is too fragile to touch, his libido picks up, the social reaction, and his own internal torment.

Part tells of her work on the new signal and why she and only she can figure out what the encryption key is on the alien message.

Many of Sawyer's recent works have to deal with some manner of immortality. Most are machine stored immortality in either mainframes or robot bodies. This is the first that provides immortality in an organic vessel.

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