ROBERT J. SAWYER
Wednesday, May 2
I love Robert J. Sawyers brain. Really, I do. As Canadas only author to win the worlds top three science fiction awards for best novel of the year, one of only seven writers to ever do so, he is still a humble man with great ideas. His latest novel, Rollback, will no doubt collect more pieces of sculpture for his bookshelf.
"I wanted to see what would be the consequences of becoming young again," says Sawyer. "I wanted to ask, What would you do with your life, what would you do differently, if you suddenly found yourself with another 60 to 70 more years to live?"
Rollback, set in a future Canada, is essentially an exploration of the ethical implications of becoming young again. With the mapping of the human genome, the aging process has been unlocked and for enough money, a person can roll their age back several decades. Imagine being 87-years-old and becoming 25 again. Dr. Sarah Halifax is offered this chance by a billionaire industrialist. Years before, she successfully decoded the first message from an intelligent alien species and helped send a response. 38 years later, another message is sent, and at 87, Sarah would not live long enough to recieve the next message. Seen as essential for continuing a dialogue with her "pen-pal" light years away, she accepts an offer to be rolled back in age, but only if her husband of 60 years is offered the same multi-billion dollar procedure. The rollback works for Sarahs husband Don, but not for Sarah.
Robert Sawyer is essentially an idealist, and his writing reflects great optimism for the future. That common sense and humanity wins out over cynicism and self-interest. Sawyer is a quintessentially Canadian writer, and his work refreshingly revels in a comfortable Canadian viewpoint, with all the cultural markers intact. The novel is essentially a love story between two people who have been together for 60 years, with one suddenly having to figure out what to do with a second lifetime.
"I wanted to answer the question that Satchel Paige asked," says Sawyer. "How old would you be, if you didnt know how old you are? We know what causes us to age now, and it will not be long before we will be able to correct or reset that process. What would it be like to become young again? When I wrote this book, I would remind myself of something a great editor, Judy Meril, once said to me years ago when I asked her, Who would want to live forever? Wouldnt you get bored? She looked at me and said, Only someone in their twenties would think that."
Sawyer sees the future of conquering the aging process as one of the greatest ethical evolutionary steps humanity will take. Our worldview will have to be re-examined once this very real possibility occurs. "We already know what causes us to age," says Sawyer. "Soon it will be possible to reset our genetic code and add several decades to our limited lifespan. Imagine the possibilities. A longer life span forces us to care. Global warming suddenly becomes our own responsibility because we will live long enough to be there when it happens. Imagine suicidal religious fanatics asking themselves, I could cheat myself out of possibly several thousand years of active life. The concept of an imaginary afterlife would wither and fade in the face of a very real, potentially immortal life here and now."
The novel itself could not possibly cover all the ramifications of conquering the aging process. Rollback is a stronger story for that, but it raises all the proper questions what would happen if only the very wealthy could afford immortality? What would happen to your relationships, with your family and friends? What would you do with your life, again?
Sawyers enthusiasm for the answers to these questions is undeniable. "The great writer Isaac Asimov, toward the end of his life, was trying to speak to his daughter from his deathbed, and all he was able to say was, I want, I want, I want
Isaac Asimov," says Sawyer. "He just wanted more, he wanted to be Isaac Asimov again. I believe we are very close to reaching that goal, to have that physical joy of being alive long enough to answer the really big questions."