Robert Sawyer has won many awards for his science fiction, which is praised for its blend of high-tech mystery and suspenseful pacing.
©1995 Robert J. Sawyer; (P)2003 Recorded Books
Increasing my ops tempo by allowing storytellers to whisper in my ear(buds).
In the style of Isaac Asimov this novel is about “the idea.” The characters are just necessary elements of the plot to advance the idea. Sawyer does well in giving the characters logical motivation but they behave in a fashion that is so clearly useful to the story that they never seem real. But, after all, this is an idea story and not literary fiction. This book sometimes feels like a noir mystery. The writing style is very stark and spares few words that don’t advance the plot. There are several ideas here; the key ones both related to a quantum leap in the resolution of brain scan technology.
The first “idea” is the scientific discovery of the human soul. This allows Sawyer to explore several moral questions: We are challenged to explore the consequences of the effect such a scientific announcement would have on society. Sure, many people are religious and such a discovery would only confirm their beliefs, but many materialists would be forced to reevaluate their concept of reality. Sawyer also interjects the morality of abortion, given the fact that the soul enters the fetus at an early stage in gestation. Animal lovers have to cope with the fact that Old Yeller has no soul.
The other key “idea” that drives the story is that of computer artificial intelligence (AI). This is a spin-off technology from the brain-scan that discovered the soul. Now a personality can be captured. All this happens by the half-way point in the novel.
This book does what a good book should do: It provokes deep thought. Some novels accomplish this by means of great insights into the way people think and feel; expressing that humanity with great depth of characterization. Some non-fiction books do this by revealing something profound about the way the world works. This novel qualifies as a good book by raising some of the grand themes of all time: When does human life begin? Is there life after death? And on top of it all is a satisfying mystery thriller.
I have read several of Sawyer’s books and find that he is typical of many Science Fiction writers. Like Arthur C. Clarke and the aforementioned Isaac Asimov, Robert Sawyer, although a supposedly a materialist in his personal life, he often writes stories dealing with spiritual, ethical and moral questions. Clarke wrote the stories “The Star” (Christ’s natal star), and “The Nine Billion Names of God” (God is real) both revolving on religious matters. Asimov’s famous story “The Last Question” postulates the origin of God Himself. Sawyer, too, explores such themes. His novel CALCULATING GOD revolves around the idea of an advanced race of aliens that are theists, in contrast to the scientific community on earth which is largely atheistic. Sawyer’s FLASH FORWARD deals with determination and free-will. I raise this subject to make the observation that such curiosity is probably endemic to the human condition. Moral questions, like those investigated by Sawyer, and his fellows, form the basis of their most compelling work. It seems that the poetic muse for atheistic writers is thoughts of God.
Paul Hecht reads this novel in straight fashion. His tone is deep and pleasant. I usually gravitate toward the narrators who give flamboyant performances, but I found that Paul Hecht here allowed me to fully engage with the words of the story. His performance was unobtrusive and very enjoyable. As a bonus he does something that most narrators get wrong: he correctly pronounces the word “sentience” as SEN-shunce; for that alone he gets kudos.
If you have extra credits, it is worth the listen. The technology (which is the centerpiece of the story) is on such weak foundations that to me much of the story lacked credibility and kept me from engaging. The characters were well written and the overall premise interesting, but there are so many GREAT books out there leave this one for a long summer vacation when you leave your critical thinking hat at home.
Sawyer took me on a journey of the possible future. What was so enjoyable is the story was extremely well thought out and very believable on how things will actually unfold. As with most Sawyer books I see a trend in the final pages of having to wrap up some worldview and philosophy. Sometimes I disagree and find it annoying and sometimes I think "yes I think that too". You'll have to experience it for yourself and decide.
In this novel, Sawyer takes a foray into transhumanism as the protagonist seeks to determine the significance of the newly discovered "soul wave", which leaves the body at death. Coupled with one of Sawyer's trademark characters, a scientist who's been badly hurt emotionally, the novel is both thought-provoking and entertaining, as well as astonishingly prescient given the decade in which it was written.
Four stars, easily.
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Yet again, another thought provoking book by Robert J Sawyer… but I expected no less!
The book was written in 1995 and was set about 20 years in the future - which means right about now. This was comical to read because we now know if his future predictions about our culture have come to pass.
He missed the mark on a few things like: Curbside Newspaper Printers, we don’t have VCRs anymore (although his VCR had all the same capabilities and programming parameters that our PVRs have), Donahue and Leno are no longer on air, and poor Peter Jennings passed away.
He got things right like: Queen Elizabeth II is still alive and well, that there would be a Pope Benedict XVI (impressive!) and electronic readers (did we envision reading tablets in the 90s? It’s so long ago I can’t remember.
Of course he did not predict the Iphone but he did conjure up video-phones.
Aside from the fun of picking those details apart, the story itself was a typical Sawyer-mind-bend. I love his books, they never ever disappoint!
Reading Fantasy and SCI-FI on audible.
This book covers many disparate topics from religion (existence of a soul) to determination of when someone is actually dead - for organ donation purposes. The technology discussed moves between things long gone (technologically speaking) to things that have not been done. The concept that one could record one's self and store in on the internet, turn it on and have a discussion with your self is kind of interesting. The fact that there are limitations to that recording vs the physical experience is not surprising.
The story carries well although a little weak on the ending. The reading is good and captured my attention. Overall a great performance.
A lover of contemporary, character driven sci-fi.
Good characters and a high-tension plot, very cohesive story. The end, however, was a bit anticlimactic, much like other Sawyer works. Still, it's not like I want that part of my life back or anything. Meh.
If I had to describe the book in a word, it would be "unoriginal."
The major concepts have been been tired for years, having been thoroughly explored in B grade television sci-fi anthologies (i.e. Outer Limits) and present nothing new. The characters have some minor depth, but are never developed enough for me to care about them, an essential feature in a book where the universe and vision of the future are hackneyed ideas. I don't recommend this book at all, unless you are specifically looking for something that feels like a made-for-TV SyFy channel movie extended into many hours of audio.
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