2024 Reading Challenge

2024 Reading Challenge
Jill Elizabeth has read 1 book toward her goal of 285 books.

2023 Reading Challenge

2023 Reading Challenge
Jill Elizabeth has read 5 books toward her goal of 265 books.

Three Cheers for Accessible and Engaging Science Fiction!

It’s book review Tuesday again, and this week I am going to tell you about my latest favorite author – Robert J. Sawyer – whose latest book (Wonder, part of the WWW Trilogy), the final installment of an amazing trilogy, is sitting in the mailbox as we speak (hooray!). Sawyer is a prolific Canadian author who has won the Triple Crown of science fiction “best novel” awards – the Hugo, the Nebula, and the John W. Campbell Memorial. He writes beautiful, lyrical, thought-provoking, intellectually challenging, and yet still very accessible books about complex scientific theories. So here are my reviews of the Sawyer books I have read to date (listed in the order I read them not in order of preference, as I basically love them all) – there are many more I have not yet read, so be on the lookout for additional posts about his books over time.

WARNING: Spoiler alert (a bit) – some of the following descriptions do reference tidbits of storyline/plot that could be considered “spoilers”. I will never give the ending of a book away in any book review. Some people do consider any mention of a story point that is not immediately apparent from the book jacket/introductory pages to be a “spoiler”, so I wanted to give the heads up if you are one of those people who wants to be surprised about everything in the story.

  • FlashForward – I stumbled upon my first Sawyer experience via a recommendation from my friend Michelle (hello Bimson!); FlashForward was not yet on television at the time. If you enjoyed the TV show – which was pretty good, I must say – you will love the book. The basic storyline is the same (albeit without some of the made-for-TV drama added into the show) – the whole world blacks out simultaneously and each person witnesses their own future. But instead of flashing forward six months, as on TV, everyone flashes 20+ years ahead. As you would imagine, this results in much greater confusion and visions that are more difficult to decipher (imagine for a minute where you were 20 years ago – if you had seen then where you are now, would you have been able to make any sense of what you saw? I find this to be a fascinating question and line of thought, by the way, and worth talking through/thinking about with friends/family – especially over a cocktail/two…). As someone moderately obsessed (teehee – is that even possible, to be moderately obsessed?) with time travel, I find this storyline extraordinarily intriguing. The quest to figure out what happened – and perhaps more importantly why it did – is engaging and thought-provoking; Sawyer’s explanations of the principles of physics that underpin the theories about the flash forward are as well. As a first glimpse into the Sawyer world, FlashForward left me completely hooked.
  • Calculating God – I want to be Robert J. Sawyer. In Calculating God, he manages to combine aliens, scientific proof of the existence of God, terminal illness, and paleontology into a fascinating and utterly fantastic, yet still somehow plausible and coherent, story. The concept of aggregating knowledge from civilizations throughout the universe to better understand a species’ own evolution (and eventually devolution) and to demonstrate the existence of a god-head overseeing the universe is an extraordinarily complex melding of religious and scientific theories. It is a rare gift indeed to be able to bring those two theoretical worlds together in a balanced manner, capturing subtle nuances of faith and evidence without ever indicating a bias toward either. Sawyer’s alien, who of course ultimately ends up to be more humane than most of the humans, is an original and clever creation; I found myself hoping that Sawyer knows something the rest of us do not about alien life forms…
  • Rollback – “If only I knew then what I know now…” We’ve all said it/heard it said, but know that – for good or for ill – you can’t go back again. In Rollback, Sawyer considers the implications of a world in which you could. This fascinating story about the ability to literally roll back the years and make a person’s body (at a cellular level) any age again while their mind remains the same and retains all of the accumulated knowledge and experiences of the fully lived life. Once the rollback occurs, the body will begin to age forward from that point. Imagine this for a minute – you could make your body 21 again, but know everything you do now. Sounds great, right? Well, as with all “gifts”, especially in fiction, Sawyer says be careful what you wish for, because you just might get it… His exploration of the social, financial, emotional, and physical implications of literally turning back the clock is brilliantly envisioned, provocative, evocative, and utterly engaging. It is, I believe, my favorite of the Sawyer books I have read so far, which is saying something…
  • WWW Trilogy – Wake – In Wake, Sawyer brings us a heroine (Caitlin Decter, online screen name: Calculass because she is a math prodigy – how clever is that?) who is blind yet manages to see (in many senses of the word) more than anyone else around her – both figuratively and ultimately literally. Caitlin’s blindness is not an affliction but merely a fact of her life; Sawyer presents her experiences in an utterly matter-of-fact manner that is both appealing and refreshing. The descriptions of what it means to Caitlin to gain sight (in two intriguing senses – for more information you will have to read the book, as that would be a spoiler) and how that affects what she perceives about the world (and her place in it) are thoughtful and lead to interesting thoughts about exactly what it means to “see” (and therefore understand) anything/anyone. The concept of consciousness/what it means to be “alive” is blended seamlessly with the structure of the World Wide Web and the implications of that blending are fascinating (an adjective I never imagined I would apply to anything involving the structure of the Web!). The book ends at just the right point – you are left hanging but not out on a limb. Fortunately for me, the sequel had already been published and was readily available so I did not have to hang for too long.
  • WWW Trilogy – Watch – In Watch, the sequel to Wake, Sawyer adds in the additional element of paranoia – applied to the internet, artificial intelligence, and government oversight (and the subsequent fear of overreaching) – without losing a beat or traveling even briefly into crazy-conspiracy-theorist land. A common complaint about second books in trilogies is often the least exciting or action- or drama-packed, because it often serves as a bridge between the beginning and the end. Not so with this one; Sawyer manages to make mince-meat of that common complaint. The story moves at a well-managed pace, shifting deftly from World Wide Web construction and composition to autism to teenage dating angst to political intrigue to social responsibility to what it means to be human. Once again Sawyer ends his book at just the right point – but this time I was finished before the next book was available. Fortunately, only by about a week. But that was one long week, believe me, and I cannot wait to dig in to the final installment in what is now one of my favorite trilogies.

So there you have it – five extraordinary books that have reminded me why the “science” comes first in science-fiction. Sawyer incorporates unique and original story lines, intriguing ethical and social considerations, and just the right amount of weirdness into each novel. I am no science-wiz – that would be Amy! – but this is one author who manages to make extremely complex theoretical possibilities (and the formulae underlying them) both accessible and enjoyable. A difficult task, that, but one that he manages supremely.



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