Factoring Humanity by Robert J. Sawyer

I finished Factoring Humanity by Robert J. Sawyer, last night around 10 PM. It’s the 386th book on my list. Like most of Rob’s books have been for me, I could hardly put this one down. I started it on Sunday and got through perhaps the first 90 pages or so. Yesterday, although I worked all day and then spent time in the evening doing some writing of my own, I still managed to get through the remaining 260 pages, although I had to stay up late to do it.

This is good science fiction that combines a half dozen big idea into one exciting mash-up. It’s a book about First Contact, in the same vain as Carl Sagan’s Contact. It’s a book about artificial intelligence, quantum computing, human consciousness (even what it means to be human), psychology, and false memories.

It is all of this and yet it is also the story of a family that has fallen apart and is struggling to find some way to put itself back together again. It’s a touching story that–science fiction tropes aside–I found moving at several levels.

Like most of Rob’s stories, this one takes place in Canada, which gives it an almost alien quality to those of us who are American readers. I really like this about Rob’s books. I feel like I’ve grown to know the Canadian psyche, in some small way, through the characters I’ve met and identified with in his books, and Factoring Humanity was no exception.

Some books that attempt to tackle such a variety of mind-expanding ideas, build up to a requisite pitch of excitement and anticipation, but fall flat, somehow, when unveiling the conclusion. No so, Factoring Humanity. The payoff is, in my opinion worthy of the story being told. The characters are strong, struggling with their demons and each other. It’s one of those books that really had me, it was a page turning, and it was moving. It had almost everything that makes a perfect read for me.

But I don’t give those out lightly. I rated the book 4 stars (out of 5). I was tempted to give it 4-1/2 stars, but my policy since I started keeping my list was not to give out half-stars and I simply couldn’t see myself starting now. It was one of those stories that I really, really, enjoyed however, and it’s a book that I would recommend to anyone interested in reading an example of superb science fiction.


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