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April Books 7) Rollback

7) Rollback, by Robert J. Sawyer

Sawyer's continuing presence on award shortlists is a mystery to me. His Hominids is possibly the worst book ever to win the Hugo (and yes, I have read They'd Rather Be Right); and The Terminal Experiment, while not quite as dire, is certainly one of the least impressive Nebula winners.

So when I say that Rollback is the best book I have read by Sawyer, this should be understood as damning with faint praise. The prose somehow seems a bit less clunky: the tedious undergraduate-level discussions of philosophy and science are wisely constrained to the first half of the book; the two story lines - the central character's unexpected rejuvenation, and the decoding of an alien message - come close to reinforcing each other.

Yet in the end, it doesn't work. The biggest flaw is that while our central character is undergoing the dramatic changes of rejuvenation, and the consequent disruption of his life with his wife and family, we get very little sense of being inside his head. The second huge plot problem is that the alien messages come only once every 18.8 years (well, actually every 37.6 years): surely once contact has been established, one would set up continuous transmission in both directions, even knowing that there would be an 18.8 year lag?

Having said that, it's a mediocre book rather than a bad one. Probably going last on my list (certainly below "No Award"); but I haven't read Scalzi yet!


( 9 comments — Leave a comment )
Apr. 7th, 2008 07:59 am (UTC)
I've not read any Sawyer, but I do recall reading an unintentionally hilarious interview with him in Interzone a few years ago - he responded to every mild criticism of him by quoting extensively from his good reviews, and just seemed incapable of admitting he was wrong about anything.
Apr. 7th, 2008 12:08 pm (UTC)
rollback - rollup - throwup
You've made my day. I thought it was fradulent from start to finish - especially all the product placements. Did he get paid for mentioning coke, Atkin's or Dell, etc....?

The friend who lent itto me admits he has but the cause of winnning me back to SF mat least 10 years.
Apr. 7th, 2008 02:02 pm (UTC)
I found myself pleased and surprised by the relatively high level of Sawyer's writing, that and the use of Toronto as a setting in a non-gratuitous way.
Apr. 8th, 2008 05:33 am (UTC)
Does "relatively high" mean that he partially confounded your low expectations? Or that you actually think his prose style is good?
Apr. 8th, 2008 07:12 pm (UTC)
The former. I remember that in Flashforward he had a character travel to North York (not Toronto, but specifically North York) and comment on the subway. Compared to that, well.
Apr. 7th, 2008 06:55 pm (UTC)
I think his awards success can be attributed to him having a talent for self-promotion that approaches the level of 'superpower'.
Apr. 8th, 2008 02:00 am (UTC)
What flabbers my gast is when I hear Sawyer held up as an example of SF with good characterization. Um, NO. He writes decent plots, but I can't put up with the cardboard people & wooden prose.

Have you read the other Canadian SF Robert (Charles Wilson)? Excellent at creating recognizable people, and not skimpy on the sensawunda either. Darwinia turned my head inside out when I realised where it was going.
Apr. 8th, 2008 05:35 am (UTC)
Haven't read Darwinia, but I really loved Spin and tipped it heavily for the Hugo it won two years ago.
Apr. 8th, 2008 03:36 pm (UTC)
good characterization
Bull pucky! The only really interesting or believable character in the book was the robot. That should tell you something.
( 9 comments — Leave a comment )

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