cover image Factoring Humanity

Factoring Humanity

Robert J. Sawyer. Tor Books, $23.95 (352pp) ISBN 978-0-312-86458-3

It's the personal implications of first contact that Sawyer (Illegal Alien) dramatizes in his disturbing and uneven new novel. Set in Canada, circa 2017, the story focuses on Heather and her computer-scientist husband, Kyle, who have separated following the suicide of their daughter Mary. When younger daughter Rebecca confronts her parents and accuses her father of molesting her, the family starts to shake apart. Redemption comes in the unlikely form of alien altruism: the messages from Alpha Centauri that psychologist Heather has studied for years prove to be blueprints for a ""psychospace"" device that enables her to see into the overmind of humanity, and to know anyone's deepest thoughts. In a flash, Kyle is exonerated, Rebecca apologizes--and her nasty, manipulative therapist is blamed for the false accusation. Although the novel ends with Heather greeting the first starship from Alpha Centauri, the bulk of the plot centers around the family's own mystery, and so the conclusion comes off as anti-climactic. Sawyer also includes too many digressions about the cultural significance of Seinfeld, Star Trek bloopers and quantum physics, delivering a tale that ultimately works more as a study of the human heart than as believable story of alien encounter. (June) FYI: Sawyer, whose The Terminal Experiment won the 1995 Nebula for Best Novel, was recently elected president of the Science Fiction Writers of America.