Factoring Humanity

Robert J. Sawyer
Factoring Humanity Cover

Factoring Humanity


This novel has very definitely not aged well. The passage of 22 years has pretty much turned it into a trash fire. I would have said that the author couldn't possibly do a worse job of characterizing women than he did in the novel Hominids with its appalling rape subplot. I was wrong.

One of the two major plotlines in this book involves false accusations of child sexual abuse and sexual harassment -- which real-world studies have shown are actually extremely rare occurrences -- and a female psychologist who is coaching patients into false memories of sexual abuse. Yes, such things have happened on very rare occasions, but this novel has the effect of making them look like the rule rather than the exception, and of dismissing and trivializing the reality of most such cases. (At the very end, one of the cases turns out to be legitimate, but after the entire book has been spent painting the perpetrator as a sympathic, persecuted character, it's too little, and far too late.) And then there's the fairly detailed description of a rape witnessed by the main female character.

And at one point, the main male character complains that the synchronization of the menses of his wife and two daughters made his life hell. Because of course, if they're reacting badly, it can't possibly be because hormones have made their lives hell -- but hey, who cares about their feelings. And also: the vast majority of women do not experience severe PMS. FFS, the ignorance, chauvinism, and self-absorption here are staggering. I'm rather horrified that this novel was actually a Hugo finalist.

(And then there's the passing sympathetic reference to Bill Cosby, which has definitely not aged well. This is one of the dangers of including real-world cultural references in an SF novel.)

The other major plot thread, SETI transmissions from an alien race, is quite interesting but very much patterned on Carl Sagan's novel Contact (which the author indirectly acknowledges).

There are some interesting ideas here, but honestly, given the crap the reader has to wade through to get to them, I don't feel that I can recommend this novel to anyone. Contact, or its inspiration James E. Gunn's The Listeners, would be far better choices for getting much the same story without the accompanying garbage.