REVIEW SUMMARY: A first-rate story with widespread appeal.
BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Jake Sullivan uploads his mind into a new, artificial body.
PROS: Gives rise to thought-provoking issues; never a dull moment; compelling and page-turning; offers something for casual and hardcore sf fans alike.
CONS: The multiple references to twentieth-century pop icons were distracting.
BOTTOM LINE: A thought-provoking, page-turning book.
One of the thrills I get from reading science fiction is when the story makes you think about implications of technology. Not in a “wow. That’s cool!” kind of way which is more of a sense-of-wonder reaction, but in terms of realism; a way that makes you truly wonder about how things are defined, perceived and interpreted. I’m talking about thought-provoking issues that push limits of how we think about things. In Mindscan, Robert J. Sawyer has created a story that does just that, and uses sound science to do it.
The Mindscan process in Sawyer’s book, offered to the wealthy by the Immortex Corporation, allows a person’s mind to be transferred into an artificial body who then legally assumes the role of the biological person. And there are perks. The new body can be cured of the old biological ills, can be re-sculpted to have a more youthful appearance (indeed, most Mindscan customers are the elderly looking for immortality), do not require sleep and can even be augmented with super-strength. After Mindscan, the biological original who has signed over all rights of personhood is brought to the far side of the moon where Immortex has established New Eden, a lunar paradise where the biologicals can live out their remaining days.
Mindscan follows the story of 40-something Jake Sullivan who undergoes the Mindscan process in 2045 to cure him of rare neurological disorder that killed his middle-aged father. While Biological Jake is transported to the moon, Mindscan Jake comes to grips with his new artificial body and the reactions of his loved ones. He also meets another Mindscan, popular author Karen Bessarian. Karen is being sued by her son who claims that the Mindscan process has denied him his inheritance. Meanwhile, thanks to advances in medicine, the original Jake located on the moon is cured of his brain disorder and wishes to return to Earth. Too bad the contract he signed prohibits him from doing so. Jake then decides to take matters into his own hands.
Mindscan is a character-driven story, yet intelligently deals with issues concerning humanity, consciousness and soul, many of which come up during Karen’s trial. Both sides of the case present strong arguments using science, philosophy and religion. These issues were so compelling that I couldn’t help but think about them between reading sessions. I have no doubt that casual science fiction readers would enjoy this as much as hardcore sf fans. (In reading Mindscan, I am reminded of two other books: The Resurrected Man by Sean Williams, which also deals with copied minds, and Beggars in Spain by Nancy Kress, which deals with genetically engineering away the need for sleep, an activity that is no longer required by the Mindscan process. These books and Mindscan each provide thought-provoking issues surrounding the technology that is central to the story.)
The alternating viewpoints between Mindscan Jake and Biological Jake helped move the story along. Each version of Jake is sympathetic and I was rooting for both of them – at least up to the point when Moonside Jake’s desperation got the better of him. Mindscan Jake winds up alienating his friends and family who do not know what to make of the android claiming to be Jake Sullivan. But Jake is otherwise pre-occupied with voices that only he can hear, a side-effect of Immortex’s brand new process. Both versions of Jake reacted logically to their situation and I wondered what I would do in each of their shoes.
One thing that did seem out of place in the near future setting of 2045 was the constant use of 20th century pop references (in the first half of the book at least). Are people really going to remember, for example, Tom Selleck, Alannis Morissette and Will Smith to the point that they will reference them in everyday conversations? Such moments actually pulled me out of the story with a gimme-a-break eye roll. Minor moments though they may be, it was distracting enough to knock off half a star.
Otherwise, Mindscan is a top-rate story with wide appeal. There was never a dull moment. Fans of science fiction will love the issues raised by the technology, and those new or unfamiliar with sf will enjoy the character-driven story that questions the very definition of humanity.