Robert J. Sawyer

Tor Science Fiction



Mass Market Paperbound

320 Pages



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Dr. Sarah Halifax decoded the first-ever radio transmission received from aliens. Thirty-eight years later, a second message is received and Sarah, now 87, may hold the key to deciphering this one, too . . . if she lives long enough.

A wealthy industrialist offers to pay for Sarah to have a rollback—a hugely expensive experimental rejuvenation procedure. She accepts on condition that Don, her husband of sixty years, gets a rollback, too. The process works for Don, making him physically twenty-five again. But in a tragic twist, the rollback fails for Sarah, leaving her in her eighties.

While Don tries to deal with his newfound youth and the suddenly vast age gap between him and his wife, Sarah struggles to do again what she’d done once before: figure out what a signal from the stars contains.


Praise for Rollback

"A novel to be savored by science-fiction and mainstream readers alike."—Toronto Globe & Mail

"Sawyer’s near-future speculative fiction reveals many advances in medicine and robotics. But it’s the humanness of the closeness (and the distance) between Sarah and Don that makes Rollback an early candidate for sci-fi book of the year."—Kansas City Star

"Nearly 40 years have passed since Dr. Sarah Halifax cracked an encoded message from an alien intelligence. A second encoded message presages the start of a human-alien dialog, and Sarah, now in her eighties, is offered a rare rejuvenation procedure to enable her to live long enough to usher in a new era. When the process succeeds for her husband but fails for her, she must continue her efforts at breaking the new code while coping with a husband with whom she can no longer grow old. Sawyer (Calculating God), winner of the Hugo and Nebula awards, is no stranger to controversial issues. This tale raises many questions about the ethics of life extension. Above all, the author's characters bear their human strengths and weaknesses with dignity and poise. An elegantly told story for all libraries; highly recommended."—Jackie Cassada, Library Journal

"Sawyer's latest concerns the reply to a message sent 38 years previously, responding to an alien radio transmission. Sarah Halifax worked on the team responsible for translating the original received message, and clearly she may be vital to the second. But she and her husband have just celebrated their sixtieth anniversary, and neither expects to live much longer. A hyperwealthy benefactor offers to pay for her to have a rollback, a somewhat experimental rejuvenation process, and agrees to another for husband Don, too. The process works for Don but not for Sarah. While Don struggles with second youth, Sarah continues translating the message. Sawyer's investigation of rejuvenation—especially difficult for a man with the body of a 25-year-old married to an octogenarian—and of massively time-delayed communication with aliens loads a fascinating story with difficult issues. Don makes mistakes, yet he and Sarah are good people and thoughtfully constructed characters. Rollback exploits two staple sf tropes to produce a nicely executed, human-scale story."—Regina Schroeder, Booklist

"Canadian author Sawyer once again presents likable characters facing big ethical dilemmas in this smoothly readable near-future SF novel. Astronomer Sarah Halifax, who translated the first message from aliens and helped prepare humanity's response, is 87 when the second, encrypted message arrives 38 years later. To aid the decoding, a tycoon buys rejuvenation treatment for Sarah and Don, her husband of 60 years; however, only Don becomes young again. While coping with the physical indignities of old age, Sarah tries to figure out the puzzle of the second message. The bond between Don and Sarah continues, even while Don is joyfully and guiltily discovering the pleasures of living in a young body again. They want to do what's right for each other and the rest of humanity—for the aliens, too—if they can figure out what ‘right’ could be. By its nature, a story about moral choices tends to get talky, but the talk is intelligent and performed by sympathetic and believable people. Sawyer, who has won Hugo and Nebula awards, may well win another major SF award with this superior effort."—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"This is what SF is supposed to be about: Discovery as carried out by real people. A joy to read; a superb novel."—Jack McDevitt, author of Odyssey

Reviews from Goodreads



Read an Excerpt

Chapter One Sunday, February 2, 2048 It had been a good life. Donald Halifax looked around the living room of the modest house that he and his wife Sarah had shared for sixty years now, and that thought kept coming back to him. Oh, there had been ups and downs, and the downs had seemed excursions into the flames of hell at the time—the lingering death of his mother, Sarah’s battle with breast cancer, the rough periods their marriage had gone through—but, on balance, when all was said and done, it had been a good life. When all was said and done. Don shook
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  • Robert J. Sawyer

  • Robert J. Sawyer was born in Ottawa and lives in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada. He has won both the Hugo and Nebula awards for best novel.
  • Robert J. Sawyer
    Robert J. Sawyer