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Factoring Humanity
Robert J. Sawyer
Tor Books, 352 pages

Factoring Humanity
Robert J. Sawyer
The winner of the Nebula Award in 1995 for The Terminal Experiment, Robert J. Sawyer has also won three Aurora Awards, Canada's award for excellence in science fiction. His novel Starplex was a finalist for both Hugo and Nebula Awards. In addition, he earned the Arthur Ellis Award from the Crime Writers of Canada.

Robert J. Sawyer Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Illegal Alien
SF Site Review: Frameshift
Steven H Silver's Review of Starplex
Steven H Silver's Review of The Terminal Experiment

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Rodger Turner

Robert J. Sawyer writes my favourite kind of science fiction. Interesting characters, fast-paced plotting science threaded elegantly into the prose yet simply put to let me understand it -- he can do it all with grace and style. He does it again in Factoring Humanity. If you have read some of his recent novels you'll know what I mean. And he does one other thing that I figured would be almost impossible to render. He's found a way to make the format of technology as important as the content.

Let me explain what I mean. Heather Davis, a psychologist at the University of Toronto, is trying to decode signals that have been received from Alpha Centauri. For about 10 years, some civilization has been beaming them to Earth. Initially they were simple to decode, but then no frame of reference seemed to work for the material the aliens sent. Scientists, including Heather, were stymied. About all they can figure is that the signal bursts equate to pages. One day the signals stop. Sawyer drops clues left, right and centre until she discovers it isn't just the content but also the format that is important. Want a vague hint? If you've watched movie trailers over the winter and spring, you'll have seen similarities a few times including one of Bruce Willis' less successful films. [Editor's note: Armageddon]

To test her hypothesis, she decides to discover a truth known only within her family. Accusations of abuse have surfaced, splintering her family. The device she's built can prove to her whether it happened. She's anguished over doing it because it implies she doesn't trust her husband. This only serves to heighten the plot tension and focus the reader's realization on the profound impact her discovery will have on civilization should she succeed.

Factoring Humanity will grab you by the scruff of the neck at the very start and it won't let go until you are finished. I was as constantly amazed by the depth of Robert J. Sawyer's characters -- their humanity, their failings and their instincts. Heather recognizes that taking your life and family for granted has consequences. Kyle, her husband, learns what giving into temptation will cost him in the long run and it is a price beyond value. Their daughter starts to appreciate how much her anger will cost her and those around her. If you read this novel, be prepared to be glued to your chair for the duration. You are in for a treat.

Copyright © 1998 by Rodger Turner

Rodger has read a lot of science fiction and fantasy in forty years. He can only shake his head and say, "So many books, so little time."

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