[Robert J. Sawyer] Science Fiction Writer
Hugo and Nebula Winner

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Reading Group Guide


by Robert J. Sawyer

Many reading groups and book clubs have enjoyed novels by Robert J. Sawyer. The following questions may help stimulate an interesting discussion about Rollback. (These questions might also suggest essay topics for students studying the book.)

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Note that these questions reveal much of the novel's plot; to preserve your reading pleasure, please don't look at these questions until after you've finished reading the book.

  1. Don mentions his old list of ten things he once wanted to do before he dies. What would be on your own list of such things? Why do you think Don has such a list but Sarah apparently doesn't?

  2. Sawyer asserts that rather than exchanging scientific knowledge, aliens will really be more interested in exchanging culture. Do you agree? There's a reference in the text to Carl Sagan's quip about not sharing Bach, because "that would be bragging." What human works do you think would be of greatest interest to aliens? What sort of thing would you like aliens to send to us?

  3. The premise of Rollback is tragic: both members of a happily married couple are supposed to be rejuvenated, but only one of them is. How would you react if the treatment had succeeded for you but failed for your spouse? What about if it had failed for you, but succeeded for your spouse?

  4. Do you believe Sarah when she says she would have left Don if their situation had been reversed? Are there any circumstances under which it would have been right for Don to leave Sarah? What would you do under similar circumstances?

  5. Did Don really need to break up with the young grad student, Lenore, or could he have kept the affair going — dealing with a legitimate physical need? Did Don break up with her because he's from an older generation that is more uptight about sex? Does morality actually change from generation to generation, or is it just that most people go through a liberal-to-conservative transition as they age?

  6. What did you think of Don's relationship with Lenore? Can a relationship that has such a disparity in life experience ever be one of equals? Was it on a more even footing by the end of the book? Did you like Lenore?

  7. Gunter's caregiver role in the novel could have been played by a real human being. Why did Sawyer choose to make Gunter a robot? Why do you think Gunter showed more loyalty to Sarah than to his creator, Cody McGavin?

  8. Much of the novel explores whether there are ethics that transcend species boundaries. Do you think there are absolutes in morality, and, if so, what are they? Can we at least agree that something as straightforward as the golden rule — do unto others as you would have them do unto you — is probably universally shared?

  9. Rarely, if ever, are adulterers portrayed positively in fiction — or in real life. Does Sawyer succeed in making Don a sympathetic character? Are there things Don does in the book that you can't forgive him for?

  10. Do you feel that SETI (the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) is a worthwhile investment of time and money? Sawyer argues that SETI is a wonderfully altruistic undertaking, because it goes counter to our usual desire for immediate, short-term gratification. Do you agree with him? If not, what things, if any, do we do as a species that are altruistic?

  11. Sawyer jumps decades ahead in the epilogue. Were you pleased to see this glimpse of the characters' future, or would you have rather it had been left as an exercise for the reader's imagination? What did you think of the world of 2067 Sawyer (briefly) portrays.

  12. The final assessment of Sarah given at the end of the book is from Lenore. Should she have had the last word, or should it have come from Don, or someone else?

More Good Reading

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More about Rollback

Reading Group Guide Index
Reading Group Guide for Quantum Night
Reading Group Guide for Triggers
Reading Group Guide for Wake
Reading Group Guide for Mindscan
Reading Group Guide for Hominids
Reading Group Guide for Calculating God
Reading Group Guide for FlashForward
Reading Group Guide for Factoring Humanity
Reading Group Guide for Frameshift
Reading Group Guide for Illegal Alien
Reading Group Guide for The Terminal Experiment
Reading Group Guide for End of an Era
Reading Group Guide for Golden Fleece

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