a face overlying a grid floating above a wire frame boxy structureAs with many of Sawyer’s science fiction novels, this one starts off with a purely human problem. Heather Davis and Kyle Graves have been separated for nearly a year when their daughter Becky brings them together to make an announcement that threatens to sunder the family completely. This family drama is accompanied by a parallel drama in Heather’s work where she is part of a global effort to decode an alien transmission received from Alpha Centauri A. Heather has a breakthrough and determines that the message is instructions for building a machine. When she constructs it she discovers that the machine will affect not only human society, but also her own family in far-reaching ways.

While there are a dozen different ideas being explored here, one of the biggest ones is how pervasive transparency in human relationships would affect society and individuals. It’s a theme Sawyer has explored in other books, in particular his series that started with Hominids. This book takes the concept further, but shares that one’s optimism positing that if only we could review what really happened to people in a situation, the result would be a kind of utopia. While the situations that Sawyer puts together do seem to collapse into a solution when easy review becomes available, I’m not convinced that this is a universal cure for what ails humanity. I’m hoping that this doesn’t become to Sawyer what telepathy became to Spider Robinson, the one-cure-fits-all-ills that made many of Robinson’s books so predictable.