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The Downloaded by Robert J. Sawyer

Reviewed by Robert Runté

Robert Sawyer is Canada's best known science fiction writer and has a huge fan following. His books are so popular, the trade paperback edition of his latest release, The Downloaded, hasn't even come out yet, but pre-orders are so high, the publisher has already had to go back for a second printing. Reviewing Sawyer's books feels a bit redundant because copies fly off the shelf faster than I can review them. Allow me, then, to address this review to those not already familiar with Robert Sawyer and his work.

Sawyer writes the purest form of science fiction in which he either takes current trends and extrapolates their long-term implications, or comes up with completely unique, sometimes jaw-dropping ideas and then works through their most subtle ramifications. His novel and subsequent TV series, Flashforward, for example, presents the premise that everyone on Earth simultaneously gets a two-minute glimpse of what they are doing in the near future. What do you do to comprehend, embrace, or avoid the future you just saw? Can the future be changed, or is knowing what happens what creates that future? Flashforward is every time travel paradox story ever, but inverted, so instead of risking changes by some meddling explorer going back in time, everyone is moving forward together. Sawyer's analysis is both deeply philosophical and character-driven. Told through the personal journeys of its characters, the novel is a fast-action read, but leaves you with questions about destiny and self-determination for years after.

Or, take my personal favourites, The Quintaglio Ascension Trilogy, in which Sawyer examines the sociological impacts of Galileo, Darwin, Freud by following their equivalent breakthroughs in the evolution of an alien civilization. It is a thought experiment of extraordinary subtly that allows us to acknowledge the role of great thinkers and key paradigm shifts within our own culture. One of Sawyer's earliest series, I still highly recommend it.

And if you enjoyed the Oppenheimer movie, reading Sawyer's The Oppenheimer Alternative, is a must-read.

His latest release, The Downloaded, is similarly thought-provoking as Sawyer combines a bunch of unrelated future scenarios,

The initial premise is that astronauts have been uploaded to separate virtual worlds while their bodies remain in cryonic suspension for years as their starship travels the immense distance to another star. Downloaded back into their bodies, they discover that things have not gone exactly as planned. That's only the first of a half dozen major twists, but my "no spoiler" policy means I can say no more. As with Flashforward, the book has an array of character studies, philosophical and moral issues to grapple with, and the underlying theme of what choices one would make in the characters' shoes.

Almost as fascinating are the implications of Sawyer's choices for the publication of The Downloaded. Sawyer has always been in demand on TV and radio as a commentator on any and all future trends. He is a popular keynote speaker at writing conventions as an industry insider and a master of social media and marketing. Where he leads, many authors follow. So it was with special interest that we saw The Downloaded first released as an audiobook exclusive from Audible.

Audiobooks have been steadily increasing in popularity and market share, so it's no surprise that Audible (the largest player in the industry) approaches some of the top commercial authors, not just for their books, but to bring them out first and as full play productions. Audible's The Downloaded stars some top Canadian talent—Brendan Fraser, Luke Kirby, Vanessa Sears, Colm Feore, Andrew Phung—and is a compelling drama. I like to listen to audiobooks as I do household chores; The Downloaded was so edge-of-the-seat, I found myself actively looking for chores to take on, so I could keep listening.

Further, while many authors would sell their souls for a contract with one of the Big Five publishers, Sawyer—and increasingly other big-name authors—have been turning their back on these corporate publishers for smaller regional presses for their print editions, and self-publishing their own e-book editions. The print version of The Downloaded is therefore being released this May by Shadowpaw Press, a relatively new regional press from Saskatchewan founded by SF author, Edward Willett.

I confess, I haven't actually read the print version, but base this review on the audiobook. I understand there are minor adaptations in the audio version to make the story workable in play format, though the story is obviously fundamentally the same, and I have no hesitation recommending them both on that basis. If you have chores to do, check out the audiobook; if you want the authentic reading experience, The Downloaded is available now for pre-order from the usual outlets. Then, well, there are 25 other Robert J. Sawyer books to enjoy in e-book, print or audiobook.

1 Yorum

Jen Frankel
Jen Frankel
3 days ago

Cool -- sounds like a must-read. I'm looking for something to turn my brain inside out without actual neurological damage ;)

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