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Factoring Humanity

3.78  ·  Rating Details ·  2,636 Ratings  ·  150 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, 336 pages
Published November 21st 2003 by Orb Books (first published 1998)
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(showing 1-30)
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David
Jun 15, 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
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
Halden
Jan 19, 2011 Halden rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
Nov 06, 2011 Liz rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
Ben Shee
This book has aged a bit - I don't know if Jungian archetypes and quantum origin of consciousness are still commonly accepted theories, but the book is nevertheless still full of intrigue and some mind expanding concepts. I've read books that have dealt with 4th physical dimensions, collapsing wavefunctions, the fear of artificial intelligence and quantum physics, but seldom in the same book with a central focus on child abuse, incest and repressed memories. The (spoiler) collective consciousnes ...more
Steve
Sep 17, 2013 Steve rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Patricia
Feb 25, 2013 Patricia rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
...more
David
Mar 09, 2013 David rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
...more
Nicci Carrera
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
David
Jun 12, 2011 David rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
Frank
Sep 17, 2011 Frank rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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?
Jennifer Gentry
Feb 22, 2013 Jennifer Gentry rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Everything I like in fiction and science fiction. I will certainly be looking for more of his books.
Steve Gold
This is one of Sawyer's most compelling books conceptually, but it's hobbled by very unfortunate choices in the execution. The science stuff is delightful and goes places I didn't expect. There's a real pleasure to peeling back the layers of the mystery along with the characters. But the rape stuff might be the worst mechanism for exploring the book's sci-fi ideas. Frankly, if the book were written today I don't think it would look much like this. It's almost worth a "director's cut" that rebuil ...more
Matthew Boehm
Nov 22, 2016 Matthew Boehm rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Not the heaviest sci-fi out there, but Sawyer succeeded in tying together some interesting ideas and providing characters that I cared about.
Wayne Woodman
Feb 12, 2017 Wayne Woodman rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I think his writing has matured but this is still a great read even though it is 18 years old. It gives me hope for humanity.
Velislav
Feb 09, 2017 Velislav rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
прекрасна фантастика и философски поглед
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
...more
Tim
Jan 21, 2012 Tim rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jun 25, 2012 Ward Bond rated it liked it

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
Ann
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
Jim Dressner
Dec 02, 2012 Jim Dressner rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
...more
Claire Carton
Apr 23, 2014 Claire Carton rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Prabhat
Apr 22, 2016 Prabhat rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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
Noah M.
Dec 08, 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
...more
Lon Cohen
Apr 06, 2014 Lon Cohen rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
...more
Matt Kelland
Aug 03, 2012 Matt Kelland rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Joe
Jul 14, 2009 Joe rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
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
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25883
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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