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Factoring Humanity

3.78 of 5 stars 3.78  ·  rating details  ·  1,993 ratings  ·  116 reviews
In 2007, 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 technol ...more
Hardcover, 350 pages
Published December 31st 1998 by Tor Books (first published 1998)
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(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Michael
I am glad I made this first step in rectifying a gap in my sci fi reading. I somehow missed reading Sawyer, who has published 21 novels for which he garnered many prizes, including both Hugo and Nebula Awards.

In this tale, a psychologist at the University of Toronto has been working for ten years on near daily transmissions of messages from an alien civilization beamed from Alpha Centauri. Only a few of the thousands of transmissions have been decoded. When the transmissions end, she accelerate
...more
David
Jun 20, 2013 David rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: APEs, tesseract-builders, Jungian psychologists
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 Intelligen ...more
Halden
As one reads Robert J Sawyer’s books it becomes obvious that some of his major interests are Star Trek, Quantum Computing, Parallel Universes and First Contact. Factoring Humanity is no different as it encompasses all these elements.

Factoring Humanity focuses on the lives of Heather and Kyle Davis, a separated couple with 2 daughters. Heather is a psychology professor trying to decipher radio messages from Alpha Centauri and Kyle is a Computer Professor trying to perfect AI and Quantum Computing
...more
Liz
interesting and lucid concepts, and I'm a sucker for a tesseract; plus it's a total page turner. however, it's ultimately lacking in moral courage. the protagonists are excused by the narrative from any hard decisions or realisations or morally questionable actions, which is not necessarily a cardinal sin in an ideas-based science fiction novel, except where the idea is humanity expanding its capacity for empathy (as is the case in this book). in that case, your protagonists need some real sins ...more
David
The book gives food for thought on a number of ideas (which aren't mentioned below). Perhaps, it deserves more than 2 stars for that. However, there are 2 areas of serious concern.

The first few chapters leave the impression one is reading a book simply about a married couple living apart who are confronted by a grown daughter who accuses the father of molesting her as a child. That may not be a promising start for someone looking for idea SF.

The story makes no claims about spirituality, but a ce
...more
Patricia
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.
...more
Steve Schnell
You can read the publishers review for the general plot and some of the plotters in this Canadian's author's science fiction. I found this book quite fascinating in its rather accurate descriptions of both Jung's 'collective unconscious' as well as its explanation of quantum physics as applied to building a quantum computer. It does get a bit technical and those who know nothing of Jung or Quantum mechanics might find the book a little bit over the top in the detail it presents. 'Factoring Human ...more
David
Factoring Humanity started strong but had a poor finish - it left a somewhat saccharine taste in my mouth. Sawyer tries to combine a thoughtful first-contact story with a much more down-to-earth family dynamic story, and the result doesn't quite work. The strongest part of the book, in my opinion, is the discussion regarding the alien transmissions - how precisely would we communicate with an alien species where we had nothing in common? However, he adds in some distracting elements - for instan ...more
Claire Carton
Like most of this authors work, the thought experiment at its heart is played out by characters who are honestly usually kind of wooden, like cutouts meant only to further the procession of the core idea. In my opinion, this somewhat cold-feeling approach keeps me aware, as I'm reading, of the artificiality of the situation. Whatever is somewhat credible at the start tends to become much less so by the end as you realize the characters are crudely drawn and often unsympathetic, so you aren't buy ...more
Lon Cohen
I am a fan of Sawyer but I am sorry to say that I did not enjoy this book as much as his others I've read. I think he did a great job with his characters, their problems, conflicts and the relationships but the ending was a little too optimistic for me. There were a few other parts that seemed entirely unrealistic in those relationships and a bit of the interaction wasn't very authentic as well but I can't go into it without spoiling anything.

I say, if you like Sawyer's books and a bit of more a
...more
Frank
So, first the U of T is NOT the Harvard of the North. Second, you discover something that changes humankind forever and you use it to solve your own little problems!? Thirdly, you have a sentient AI and you misunderstand it to the point it kills itself? Lastly, Everybody is nice at the end, really? What happened to the psychopaths?
Brett
Finished "Factoring Humanity" by Robert J. Sawyer. In this book, a signal comes from Alpha Centauri for years, then suddenly stops. What does it mean? But then we go through the lives of a broken family in Canada (of course - Sawyer's Canadian). I thought the story was good and it was a quick read - Sawyer's writing style seems to match what I like to read - but I wasn't a huge fan of where the story ultimately went. Interesting, for sure, but either not long enough or too long, depending on if ...more
Jennifer Gentry
Everything I like in fiction and science fiction. I will certainly be looking for more of his books.
Shawn
A good sci fi novel but a hard read for me. Riobert Sawyer is not shy about tackling big social issues in his scince fiction. It is what I like so much about him and what separates him from other authors. He has taken on issues of rape, (see the Neanderthall triology), infidelity (see Terminal Experiment) in this he takes on molestation, in a sense. This topic just wasn't for me. It was interesting but put a real downer for me on this novel. It won't slow me down from continuing to read Sawyer a ...more
Tim
If you could walk a mile in my shoes...

I'm starting to think that Sawyer writes sci-fi soap opera. Each of the three books of his that I've read revolves around a family facing a major crisis. Here it is the adult daughter of two scientists accusing the father of sexually abusing her as a child.

How this ties into alien messages from Alpha Centauri, Jungian Psychology and Quantum computing...well you'll just have to read the book to find out. But Sawyer weaves a brilliant tale that, despite the h
...more
Ward Bond

SUMMARY: 02 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 He

...more
Noah M.
Robert J. Sawyer has impressed me again. He writes a wonderful brand of straightforward optimistic science fiction. At least, the two books of his I've read have been very optimistic about humanity's chances of becoming part of an interstellar community before we blow ourselves into nuclear ash.

I actually don't want to talk about the plot, because it was wonderful watching events unfold. It won't spoil anything to say that mankind knows it is not alone. For 10 years Alpha Centauri has been sendi
...more
Jim Dressner
The author brings together an impressively wide range of ideas for this novel. Some topics--quantum computing, encryption using factorials, the uniqueness of four dimensions--I've learned about from my student son who is a physics graduate. These are coupled with ideas about memories & false recollections, Jungian psychology and the over-mind. Family issues play a major role, too: the main characters are an estranged couple whose daughter makes accusations of abuse.

I found the first half of
...more
Al Swanson
Another solid novel by Sawyer. I've read more than a few. I like his books, particularly the ones featuring aliens, because he doesn't make every alien a bloodthirsty invader. It's nice to have that change of pace. Too, Sawyer uses reality to blend with fiction to make a more compelling story. On top of that, he adds hard science which means the reader actually learns something while reading. I appreciate all of these things.
Where he lets the reader down is often in letting major plotlines simp
...more
Matt Kelland
I enjoyed this, and read it straight through in one sitting. It covers a range of topics; quantum computing, multiple universes, telepathy, cryptography, neurology, memory, AI and so on. The sub-plot about child abuse and repressed memory was unexpected and, I think, unnecessary. It made me uncomfortable reading it, as if Sawyer had a personal axe to grind, and I'd never read the book again because of it. However, that aside, it was an interesting look at the question of what it means to be huma ...more
Duncan Mandel
SUMMARY: 02 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 hus...
Andrea
Solid ideas behind this, but the writing was pretty stiff. Definitely in the group of scifi where the ideas come first, and everything else is just there. Like the plot, which burns slowly, barely alight, and then fizzles out in a spoiler spoiler spoiler. But the ideas were interesting enough that I'll probably pick up something else by Sawyer in the future.
Steven Cole
This was my second Sawyer book, and to my surprise, the second "decode an alien message" story from him (the other being the novel "Rollback").

Both books use that puzzle to carry along other human problems, giving Sawyer ample time to develop characters that we like.

"Factoring Humanity" was a very quick read, and I liked the depth his characters here had. The science was extremely mystical, however, and that cop-out has never made me happy when I've found it. If the real world winds up with all
...more
Betsy Boo
The worst thing about getting old is having the memory go. I got a third of the way into this and realized I had already read it. Not only that, but couldn't remember how it ended so I had to finish. Don't know what that says about the book itself. I did like it up to a point. Sawyer usually does a pretty good job explaining the science in his books, but a lot of this one went over my head. And when he's not writing about the science, he can be occasionally irritating...for example, telling us h ...more
John
I was expecting something similar to Sagan's "Contact", but was disappointed. Sagan is difficult to beat, so maybe my expectations were too high. The description of the "construct" was too long and convoluted and not enough hard science fiction.

January
May 09, 2014 January rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Hardcore sci-fi fan
Shelves: to-read-2014, fiction
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jesse Kona
A previous reviewer (Halden) warned me that Robert J. Sawyer's major interests are obviously "Star Trek, Quantum Computing, Parallel Universes and First Contact". I love all those things. Throw in time travel, a Dyson sphere, and a red head and the book wouldn't even need a plot to find a place on my shelf.

This book did, indeed, contain all of the promised elements. It also was sufficiently mysterious and usually pretty fun. At times, it was a little heavy-handed, especially with regard to the t
...more
Joe
Goodreads somehow ate my long review of this, so I'll review it in powerpoint format:

Factoring Humanity
==================
* Science fiction novel

Basic Overview
==============
* Coded alien message received over many years
* Indecipherable until now
* Main characters discover meaning

Characters
==========
* Mother: SETI researcher
* Father: AI researcher
* Family: torn apart by accusations

Issues
======
* Inner thoughts vs outer perception
* Memories vs reality
* Definition of humanity
* Deep understanding break
...more
Ric Millen
Usual simple story telling that combines an uncomplicated human plot-line and his usual interesting mix of cutting edge and speculative physics. Classic sc-fi with a contemporary touch.
Ritchie
In the near future, a signal is detected coming from the Alpha Centauri system and continues for a period of ten years. Once the data has stopped being sent, Heather Davis, a professor in the University of Toronto psychology department becomes more obsessed with working out what the signal means. While this is going on her daughter has accused her estranged husband of molesting her, which he denies.

Hmm the book starts off quite enjoyable but about half way through we encounter psychospace, a co
...more
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Robert J. Sawyer is one of Canada's best known and most successful science fiction writers. He is the only Canadian (and one of only 7 writers in the world) to have won all three of the top international awards for science fiction: the 1995 Nebula Award for The Terminal Experiment, the 2003 Hugo Award for Hominids, and the 2006 John W. Campbell Memorial Award for Mindscan.
Robert Sawyer grew up in
...more
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