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Factoring Humanity | [Robert J. Sawyer]

Factoring Humanity

In the near future, a signal is detected coming from the Alpha Centauri system. Mysterious, unintelligible data streams in for ten years. Heather Davis, a professor in the University of Toronto psychology department, has devoted her career to deciphering the message. Her estranged husband, Kyle, is working on the development of artificial intelligence systems and new computer technology utilizing quantum effects to produce a near-infinite number of calculations simultaneously.
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Publisher's Summary

In the near future, a signal is detected coming from the Alpha Centauri system. Mysterious, unintelligible data streams in for ten years. Heather Davis, a professor in the University of Toronto psychology department, has devoted her career to deciphering the message. Her estranged husband, Kyle, is working on the development of artificial intelligence systems and new computer technology utilizing quantum effects to produce a near-infinite number of calculations simultaneously.

When Heather achieves a breakthrough, the message reveals a startling new technology that rips the barriers of space and time, holding the promise of a new stage of human evolution. In concert with Kyle's discoveries of the nature of consciousness, the key to limitless exploration - or the end of the human race - appears close at hand.Sawyer has created a gripping thriller, a pulse-pounding tour of the farthest reaches of technology. Factoring Humanity is a 1999 Hugo Award Nominee for Best Novel.

©2003 Robert J. Sawyer (P)2012 Audible, Inc.

What the Critics Say

"[T]his is exciting, readable science fiction that will take you where no one has gone before - and you'll never forget the ending." (Amazon.com review)
"An intelligent and absorbing double-stranded narrative." (Kirkus)

What Members Say

Average Customer Rating

3.9 (251 )
5 star
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3.8 (221 )
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4.1 (220 )
5 star
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4 star
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3 star
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2 star
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1 star
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Performance
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  •  
    Warren United States 05-31-12
    Warren United States 05-31-12
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Enjoyable, Fast Listen"
    Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

    I like science fiction that is just on the edge of being real. This whole story was very believable to me. After you are done, you pause and start to think what if ...I like those kind of stories.


    What about Katherine Kellgren’s performance did you like?

    The narration was well done. The narrator made it very easy and interesting to listen to.


    Any additional comments?

    Highly recommend it.

    7 of 7 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Michael Sacramento, CA, United States 03-09-13
    Michael Sacramento, CA, United States 03-09-13 Member Since 2008
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "It's not as good as Sawyer's later novels"
    Would you recommend this book to a friend? Why or why not?

    No, I would not recommend this book to a friend because it feels dated and the author has many better books after this one. This is near-future sci-fi. It was written in the mid-90's and it feels like that. The story incorporates the hot-button issues of that time, like theraphist implanting false memories, quantum computing, and the fourth dimension. The way these topics are presented in this book, they don't withstand the test of time. Additionally, Swayer doesn't presuade the reader that the technology he is describing is feasable. This gives the book a fantasy feel more than sci-fi. His later novels, describe some pretty fantastic events, however, in them it is more convincing that we're still in this universe. Comparing this story to Swayer's later work, like the Neanderthal Paralax, shows the maturation of his story telling ability.


    What was most disappointing about Robert J. Sawyer’s story?

    The technology felt dated and the plot was perdictable and boring.


    What three words best describe Katherine Kellgren’s performance?

    Good, Sufficient, Melodramatic


    If this book were a movie would you go see it?

    Yes, I would see a movie made about this book because I'd want to see a Tesserac on the big screen.


    Any additional comments?

    Melodramatic...

    6 of 6 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Michael G. Kurilla ROCKVILLE, MD, United States 05-28-12
    Michael G. Kurilla ROCKVILLE, MD, United States 05-28-12 Member Since 2005
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Novel alien first contact"

    Sawyer has crafted a novel twist on a first contact theme. This near future tale has earth receiving for the past 10 years, alien messages (one every 30 hours). Beyond the initial set that contained formulas for chemicals, the remainder have been inscrutable.Our main characters are estranged husband and wife professors focused on quantum computing and psychology, respectively. The wife has been engaged with a world wide effort to decipher the messages and makes the seminal breakthrough after the messages mysteriously stop. While all of this is occurring, the couple is also dealing with accusations of sexual molestation by their only living daughter. What follows as a result of her "cracking" the alien messages would delight Freud and Jung, but at the same time will render her profession obsolete.

    Conceptually, this work is ambitious and quite engrossing. Sawyer has identified a novel mechanism for an alien encounter that does not involve either warlike aggression on the part of the aliens, nor engender an equally militaristic defensive posture on the part of earth. Some of the actions of characters are downright petty when the full power of the alien message/gift is made clear, but then Sawyer keeps the focus on the individual. At the same time, Sawyer also glosses over the ramifications of alterations in societal organization as a result as well.

    The narration is solid and inviting with a more than adequate range to handle the diversity of characters. Overall, this is well suited for a beach listen or transcontinental flight.

    12 of 13 people found this review helpful
  •  
    nadine United States 02-20-13
    nadine United States 02-20-13 Member Since 2010
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "My first Sawyer"
    Would you listen to Factoring Humanity again? Why?

    Brilliant story. Smart, entertaining. Narrator didnt get in the way of the story. Checking the reviews helped me make the decision to buy this. Always worth checking the reviews.


    3 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Joyce Wilsonville, OR, United States 04-19-12
    Joyce Wilsonville, OR, United States 04-19-12 Member Since 2008
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Enjoyed every minute!!!~"

    Factoring Humanity gets complex at times (those were my favorite parts!!) and the listener has to pay close attention-if he/she is not a theoretical physicist!

    This book brings to mind several things--Spin by Robert Charles Wilson, Dr Seuss (dont want to spoil it--if you listen you will probably see where I am going with this!) and Greg Bear--along with themes that permeate all of Sawyers books. I thoroughly enjoyed this book from start to finish.

    I am sharing my serious geekie-ness with this next part...which is why I am changing my name once I submit this review (grin)...Robert Sawyer quotes the original Star Trek and the movie Wrath of Khan within the pages...and I had to dust off my copy and fast forward to the scene they discussed and see for myself what the author pointed out...which means to me that I was relating to this book on a personal (if seriously nerdy!) level...

    My only complaint is that I have only one more Robert Sawyer novel to go...then I have to wait for him to publish something new next year...Would love if another reader who is a Sawyer fan could recommend another author who is similar. I have looked for ages and have been dissappointed in the choices I made.

    I give Factoring Humanity 5 geeky stars and an honorable mention in Nerdy! Will definitely listen to this again and recommend it to my pocket protector adorned, duct-taped glass wearing, nerdy friends!!

    10 of 12 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Linda B Northeast USA 05-23-12
    Linda B Northeast USA 05-23-12 Member Since 2008
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "just a bit blah"

    I really enjoyed some of Sawyer's earlier work. The Neanderthal/Human/Hybrid series is brilliant - well developed characters and relationships with depth that we really came to care about, all mixed carefully balanced with clever, innovative and well developed scientific speculation and a plot that moves along very nicely and holds it all together. However, as time goes on his work becomes more and more like excerts from a science paper, and all the characters seem flat, everyone is so completely scientifically adept in the same exact way and always on the same page with each other and so quick to launch into a lecture/intense conversation about the ins and outs of the science involved. Don't get me wrong, I like a lot of speculative science in my science fiction, but I like it worked into the story, not trumping the story. In this the story and characters seem more like a vehicle for a very long winded essay of some kind... or like some dream nerd scenario (and I use the word nerd with the utmost of respect) in which people sit around debate this stuff endlessly... That and the preoccupation with religion and the relentless preoccupation with Canadianism vs. Americanism (which is so prevalent in this one it becomes a bit embarassing at times) are really changing Sawyers work and style. Some might like that but it isn't my cup of tea and I really think his earlier work was much stronger and much more compelling and entertaining.

    9 of 11 people found this review helpful
  •  
    David Halethorpe, MD, United States 06-21-13
    David Halethorpe, MD, United States 06-21-13 Member Since 2010

    Indiscriminate Reader

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    ""Big Idea" science fiction"

    This is a SF geek's SF novel. See, I even used "SF" instead of "sci-fi" like I usually do to annoy the sci-fi geeks, because Factoring Humanity is Very Very Serious SF. It's full of interesting thought experiments in a broadly-scoped scenario, the epitome of thinky-mindy SF, and it also lived up to expectations of such novels in that it was very dry and full of long passages of exposition, about quantum computers, about Jungian psychology, about materials engineering, about Artificial Intelligence, about the characters' backgrounds. So, imaginative and intelligent book, interesting story, characters who are placeholders to make the plot happen.

    Set in the near future, the premise of Factoring Humanity is that Earth has been receiving radio signals from Alpha Centauri for several years now. No one has managed to decipher them yet, but there is no question that they were produced by intelligent minds. I thought the book was very realistic in depicting an Earth that, once it got over the initial collective gasp of surprise that WE ARE NOT ALONE, proceeded to carry on like before. Yeah, people are curious about those aliens, but since nothing has actually happened yet and no one knows what they're saying, they've faded into the background, becoming part of the noise of modern society. I think that's exactly how the world would react, by and large.

    The main characters, Kyle and Heather Davis, are estranged scientists both working on different ends of the same problem. Kyle is a computer scientist who has built an Artificial Intelligence (but not a truly self-aware one), and who is working on quantum computers. Heather is a Jungian psychologist (those still exist?) trying to decode the Centauri messages.

    The book starts out more like a soap opera than a SF novel. In the opening scene, the Davis' grown daughter shows up at their home and accuses Kyle of molesting her as a child. Unfortunately, this revelation is dropped on the reader before we've even gotten to know, much less care about any of these characters, delivered like the opening act of a play with lines recited by journeyman actors. So rather than being shocked, outraged, or wanting to know whether the accusation was true, I was just baffled, wondering where the author was going with this.

    Heather, who is racked with uncertainty over the accusations, meanwhile makes a breakthrough in deciphering the aliens' radio messages. It turns out they contain instructions to build something. Meanwhile, Kyle has conversations with Cheetah, his "APE" AI, and makes a breakthrough in quantum computing that could spell the death of cryptography and thus most of the world's financial industry.

    Somehow, all these threads do tie together — the molestation subplot, Heather's discovery, AIs, and the true nature of the aliens. It all gets resolved in an interesting and surprisingly optimistic way, considering that the book ends with one of those SF "game-changers" in which the universe will never be the same.

    It's the sort of book obviously meant to make you think, and it does, but I just never felt like any of the characters were real, and so the interpersonal drama (and the AIs & aliens plot mixed with Jungian psychology makes the interpersonal a crucial point of the book) fell flat. Factoring Humanity is recommended for people who like science fiction as a literature of ideas but aren't looking for a rippin' adventure.

    4 of 5 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Ripley I Attleboro, MA United States 02-22-13
    Ripley I Attleboro, MA United States 02-22-13 Member Since 2007
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Probably my favorite Robert Sawyer books"

    I always worry when a book is "only" around 10 hours, that I am not getting my moneys worth. But just about all of Robert Sawyer's books grab you right away and never let you go - I mean you just can't stop listening, and there are no dull parts. Factoring Humanity is just awesome! He always has really wonderful female characters and this is no exception. But in particular, the story just feels good all around and has just enough sci-fi techno to keep it modern!

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Simone St Laurent, Quebec, Canada 06-28-14
    Simone St Laurent, Quebec, Canada 06-28-14 Member Since 2006

    Join me on GoodReads too!

    HELPFUL VOTES
    327
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    "Can't Get Enough!"

    This is the ninth Robert J Sawyer book I’ve read and it’s the ninth I have LOVED! LOVED! LOVED!

    He is a hit every time! I can’t get enough of the stories and the themes he dreams up; his books are so good they are plan-cancelling good! I love how he makes me think and ponder fascinating scenarios… they are always so engrossing - I just want more!

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Susan Marietta, GA, United States 05-10-13
    Susan Marietta, GA, United States 05-10-13 Member Since 2010

    I've become an avid "reader" since I discovered audiobooks a few years ago. Also a cat lover - at left is Prince Harold

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "He can do better"

    Have to say that Sawyer handles aliens better than he does humans. I loved his "Calculating God", but I found this one a bit difficult what with his trying to deal with a somewhat dysfunctional human family and the resolution of marital and familial discord.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
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  • Donna
    ASKAM IN FURNESS, United Kingdom
    10/6/12
    Overall
    "The Most Thought Provoking Book I've Read in Ages"

    Wow, what a truly brilliant read. This book really had me thinking, what with quantum mechanics, parallel universes, mind reading, artificial intelligence and first contact with aliens it covered so much and was a total page turner. Robert J Sawyer is a truly fantastic writer, but in this book he really is outstanding. Probably ranks as one of my favourite reads of all times.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
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