Review: Rollback

A scientist and her husband are given the chance to “rollback” and be rejuvenated – but have to deal with the consequences when it’s not totally successful…

If you enjoy science fiction writing that makes you think, then Robert J. Sawyer’s books should already be on your radar – his most recent books (the WWW trilogy and Triggers) have all received rave reviews, not just because they’re well-plotted and feature characters with whom the audience can identify, but because they feature a strong “high-concept” idea and examine it from multiple angles.

This is nothing new in Sawyer’s writing: Rollback, which has just received a new edition from Tor, is one of those books that you put down (when you have to) during the time you’re reading it, and your mind starts thinking of other ramifications to the central concept. And then, sometimes incredibly annoyingly, you discover that Sawyer’s two steps ahead of you, and has not only thought of it, but made it central to the plot.

It’s not a major spoiler to say that the rejuvenation process only works on one of the couple – and of course, it’s not the person who you think initially should receive it (i.e. Sarah Halifax, the brilliant SETI scientist whose input is needed to decode a new signal from the stars). And maybe it’s a case of “if you’re given lemons, you make lemonade,” but by the end of the book, you come to realise that maybe it is the right person who’s left behind. Not because of anything that Sarah does that is wrong, but simply because the experiences that her husband Don goes through puts him in the position that he needs to be.

As ever with Sawyer, there are multiple pop culture references – Lost in Space, The Time Tunnel, quotes from one of the crappier episodes of Star Trek, and a quite searing deconstruction of everything that’s wrong with the Contact movie feature. Don is Sawyer’s own age, and there’s a personal feel to some of his point of view scenes that draws the reader in more than usual.

In our recent interview with him, Sawyer described Rollback as “maybe the finest novel I’ve ever written.” I think he’s right.  9/10

Paul Simpson

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