Rollback ~ by Robert J. Sawyer (reviewed by John)
This Science Fiction novel explores a host of interesting moral and ethical issues. What do you do when you are suddenly returned to your prime and are 60 years younger than your partner?
About: The year is 2048, and an 87 year old couple is quietly celebrating their 60th wedding anniversary with their family. After all of those years, Donald and Sarah remain deeply in love with each and the best of friends. By all appearances they seem like regular people and they are, but for a stunning discovery that Sarah had made 38 years earlier, which brought her a brief period of international fame and periodic interest from the press in the intervening years.
During her working life she had been one of the leading astronomers at SETI – the internationally backed Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence project. After decades of fruitless searching, a radio message had finally been detected coming from a planet orbiting Sigma Draconis, a star almost 19 light-years away from Earth. Of all the scientists involved it had been Sarah who finally figured out how to make sense of the message, and consequently she led the team who planned, created and sent a response to Sigma Draconis. That had been back in 2010, and in the meanwhile she had long since retired to live a quiet life with Donald.
Now, during their family gathering, the phone rings. The call is for Sarah. She assumes it is someone calling to celebrate their anniversary, but what she hears leaves her in shock. The aliens from Sigma Draconis had responded to the message sent to them 38 years earlier.
Most of the world had virtually forgotten about the earlier message and response. One of the constant challenges faced by SETI was that signals took many years to travel astronomical distances, so by definition SETI was a project that had to last through many generations. By contrast most humans have very short attention spans and consequently SETI always struggled for attention and funds. In this case it had taken 19 years for Earth’s message to reach Sigma Draconis, and a further 19 years before their response was received back on Earth. And there was a problem – the response is encrypted and SETI cannot decipher it.
SETI looks to Sarah for help despite her age. 38 years earlier she had seemed to be more intuitively in tune with the Dracons, and SETI hopes that she can help them once again. She is intrigued but she is feeling her age and is inclined to turn them down, until she gets a most unexpected offer. One of SETI’s main financial backers is an incredibly wealthy industrialist and in exchange for her help he offers her a rollback – a hugely expensive and experimental rejuvenation procedure that can effectively return people back to the age of 25. She refuses unless they give the same treatment to Donald. Sadly, the treatment only works for one of them resulting in a vast age gap between the loving couple.
Now you will have to read the book in order to find out what happens – and I would thoroughly recommend that you do so. Sawyer has a great imagination and has written an excellent story. Quite apart from the backdrop of first communication with aliens, the book explores a host of interesting moral and ethical issues. What do you do when you are suddenly returned to your prime and are 60 years younger than your partner? Not to mention younger than your own children. How does a young person with a whole lifetime of rich experiences interact with “normal” young people? What information should be shared with them and when? How can you not end up feeling like an alien in your own world?
My only quibble with the book – I didn’t like the ending! It didn’t work for me somehow. Nonetheless this was great read and I’d rate it 4 stars.
YouTube author interview: