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Factoring Humanity

3.77  ·  Rating Details ·  2,448 Ratings  ·  138 Reviews
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 compu ...more
Paperback, 352 pages
Published May 15th 1999 by Tor Science Fiction (first published 1998)
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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
Jun 20, 2013 David rated it liked it  ·  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
Jan 19, 2011 Halden rated it it was ok
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
Nov 07, 2011 Liz rated it it was ok
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
Nicci Carrera
Feb 21, 2016 Nicci Carrera rated it it was amazing
I loved the character conflict, the healing family theme and the characters themselves. I thought the vision of first contact was brilliant. This is how I imagine it would be, mental first. The way the author tied in Jung was brilliant also, and I liked the second mystery represented by the former friend of the heroine, the one who died. The message from that civilization revealed at the end was stunning. There are graphics in the book to help with visualization, which I appreciated. I recommend ...more
Mar 10, 2013 David rated it it was ok
Shelves: science-fiction
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
Feb 25, 2013 Patricia rated it it was amazing
Shelves: science-fiction
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.
Sep 17, 2013 Steve rated it really liked it
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
Jun 12, 2011 David rated it it was ok
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
Vicenç Sanz
Jun 08, 2015 Vicenç Sanz rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Estamos, de nuevo (siendo un libro del mismo autor que Cambio de Esquemas) ante una obra que mezcla muy bien las explicaciones puramente científicas (cuarta dimensión, universos paralelos, distintas teorías sobre el la mente humana o avances en inteligencia artificial) con un drama familiar.

Y lo hace manteniendo un buen ritmo y el interés constante por la evolución de sus problemas, que van parejos a los descubrimientos científicos ya mencionados.

Todo esto lo hace con un lenguaje sencillo, multi
Claire Carton
Apr 23, 2014 Claire Carton rated it liked it
Shelves: scifi
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
Apr 25, 2016 Prabhat rated it did not like it
I started this book, because I was looking for some space exploration novel, with intriguing insights and profound lines, which such kind of books are often equipped with. Having have come through Michael Crichton, Arthur C Clarke and Carl Sagan's novel in my this venture, I was skeptical to start this one, finding that the theme very much resembled Carl Sagan's "Contact"; still I went ahead thinking it may be a fresh tale altogether with such prolific thoughts that I had found in the books of a ...more
Lon Cohen
Apr 06, 2014 Lon Cohen rated it liked it
Shelves: own
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
Sep 17, 2011 Frank rated it it was ok
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?
Apr 15, 2014 Brett rated it liked it
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
It was ok. The speculative fiction part of the story with parallel universes, quantum mechanics and quantum computing, 4D space, and alien transmissions was mostly what I enjoyed reading about. The interpersonal relationships among the characters were flat and needlessly provocative. Also, the two main characters were employed by a university, yet neither of them seemed driven to publish to earn tenure -- maybe they already each had tenure? I listened to the audiobook over several weeks, so that ...more
Jennifer Gentry
Mar 05, 2013 Jennifer Gentry rated it it was amazing
Everything I like in fiction and science fiction. I will certainly be looking for more of his books.
Oct 23, 2014 Shawn rated it liked it
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
Jan 28, 2012 Tim rated it really liked it
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
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

Noah M.
Dec 09, 2008 Noah M. rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Jim Dressner
Apr 19, 2013 Jim Dressner rated it really liked it
Shelves: science-fiction
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
Ted Cross
Mar 01, 2015 Ted Cross rated it liked it
A well-written and interesting story. 3 and a half stars. It's a very quick read and often feels more like a construct to touch on various philosophical points rather than to simply create a great story, and too often there are things that are much too convenient because the author needs them to be there in order to justify the main character being able to make the mental discoveries that she does, but it's still an enjoyable book with some thought-provoking ideas.
Sarah (Workaday Reads)
This felt like a pretty hard core sci-fi in that there was a lot of science-y explanations that pulled me out of story and left me slightly confused.

At its core, this is a story about humanity, and what it means to be human. It's told through a husband and wife duo narrative that felt natural.

I did overall like the book and found the story intriguing, but its definitely the type of story you describe as "interesting" and not "entertaining".
May 12, 2015 Regan rated it liked it
I stuck with this book in the hopes that it would, somehow, pull the story out at the end. While it was mildly interesting in an "isn't that...uh...nice?" sort of way, overall I can't recommend this book. The writing is OK, the plot is just schlocky and dull. At times it reads like a weird romance novel. The two or three really interesting ideas in the book are deeply coated with mediocrity, alas.
Al Swanson
Jun 22, 2010 Al Swanson rated it liked it
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
Feb 16, 2015 Scott_flaxman rated it really liked it
Sawyer is a modern version of Asimov. This is 'big idea' sci fi, told in a day-to-day setting. There are long passages of thought provoking dialogue, wrapped in a humanistic story. As a result, it lacks a little pace at times, and sometimes the plot devices seem a little awkward. On the whole, however, a thoroughly good read.
Matt Kelland
Aug 03, 2012 Matt Kelland rated it really liked it
Shelves: sci-fi
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
Apr 24, 2014 Andrea rated it liked it
Shelves: ebook, 2014
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
Jan 11, 2010 Steven Cole rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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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
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