Wednesday, November 3, 2010


Mindscan by Robert J. Sawyer
Tom Doherty Associates, 2005
Hardcover , 304 pages
ISBN-13: 9780765311078
highly recommended

Robert J. Sawyer's .... back with a pulse-pounding, mind-expanding standalone novel, rich with his signature philosophical and ethical speculations, all grounded in cutting-edge science.
Jake Sullivan has cheated death: he's discarded his doomed biological body and copied his consciousness into an android form. The new Jake soon finds love, something that eluded him when he was encased in flesh: he falls for the android version of Karen, a woman rediscovering all the joys of life now that she's no longer constrained by a worn-out body either.
But suddenly Karen's son sues her, claiming that by uploading into an immortal body, she has done him out of his inheritance. Even worse, the original version of Jake, consigned to die on the far side of the moon, has taken hostages there, demanding the return of his rights of personhood. In the courtroom and on the lunar surface, the future of uploaded humanity hangs in the balance.

My Thoughts:

In Mindscan by Robert J. Sawyer, Jake Sullivan lives with the knowledge that he has the same rare, hereditary disease that resulted in his father's long time vegetative state. He feels doomed until he discovers with his hereditary wealth he can be mindscanned, a process where his entire brain is scanned and downloaded into a technologically superior mechanical body that doesn't breathe, eat, or sleep and is theoretically immortal. The process, however, results in two Jake Sullivans.

While the flesh-and-blood Jake must renounce all ties to his earthly existence and live out the rest of his days in a deluxe retirement village on the dark side of the moon, the mindscanned Jake ends up starting a relationship with Karen Bessarian, a wealthy author who has also been mindscanned. When the original Karen dies, her son sues to inherit her estate. Meanwhile, the original Jake has cause to rethink his exiled status and the mindscanned Jake begins to hear voices in his head from other Jakes.

Mindscan speculates on the ethics of bio-technology, the nature of consciousness, and the meaning of life. In Sawyer's future socially liberal Canada contrasts sharply with the fundamental Christian-controlled USA. I felt Sawyer is, as usual, taking some swipes at the USA, which readers in the USA will have to overlook.

In general Mindscan is tightly plotted at the beginning and stays focused, until the trial begins and Jake starts hearing voices. The trial dragged out a little long, becoming mostly Sawyer having a philosophical discussion on the meaning of life, bringing in abortion and the question of when life starts. In reality, the question of the rights of the mindscanned "person" would have been addressed by teams of company legal experts ahead of time and a resolution would be in place. The voices sub-plot didn't work for me - it needed to be either better developed or left out.

But Sawyer also has some brilliant moments and funny passages that make you forgive him for some of his problems and excesses. Highly recommended - It would make a good movie with some editing


March 2018: There wasn't anything special about this fight. Honest to God, there wasn't. Dad and I had argued a million times before, but nothing awful had happened. Oh, he'd thrown me out of the house a couple of times, and when I was younger he used to send me to my room or cut off my allowance. But nothing like this had ever occurred. opening

I looked at my father, and I did something I hadn't done for five years. I started to cry. My vision began to blur, and so did my mind. As the doctor continued to talk to my mother, I heard the words "severe retardation," "total aphasia," and "institutionalize." pg. 15

She nodded. "You should have an MRI, too, Jake."
"What?" I said, my heart suddenly pounding. "Why?"
Dr. Thanh lifted her delicate eyebrows, and spoke very, very softly. "Katerinsky's is hereditary." pg. 15

(August 2045) Being old isn't what it used to be, I thought, shaking my head. Not that I was old myself: I was just forty-four. pg. 17

"Shall we?" said Karen. Something about her was charming — the Southern accent, maybe (Detroit certainly wasn't where she'd grown up) — and there were, of course, the connotations that went with being in a ballroom. I found myself offering my arm, and Karen took it. pg. 19

"Of course," he said, "we can't put the digital copy back into the original biological brain — but we can transfer it into an artificial brain, which is precisely what our process does. Our artificial brains congeal out of quantum fog, forming a nanogel that precisely duplicates the structure of the biological original. The new version is you — your mind instantiated in an artificial brain made out of durable synthetics. It won't wear out. It won't suffer strokes or aneurysms. It won't develop dementia or senility. And ..." He paused, making sure he had everyone's attention. "It won't die. The new you will live potentially forever." pg. 20

"And so," said Sugiyama, "we'll provide you with an artificial body — one that's infinitely maintainable, infinitely repairable, and infinitely upgradeable." He held up a long-fingered hand. "I won't lie to you, now or ever: as yet, these replacements aren't perfect. But they are awfully good." pg. 21

With our process, you'll have a virtually unlimited lifespan, with perfect eyesight and hearing, vitality and strength, self-sufficiency and dignity." He beamed out at his audience, and I could see people nodding to themselves, or talking in positive tones with their neighbors. It did sound good, even for someone like me, whose day-to-day troubles were nothing more irritating than acid-reflux disease and the odd migraine.

Sugiyama let the crowd chatter for a while before raising his hand again. "Of course," he said, as if it were a mere trifle, "there is one catch..." pg. 23

I knew what the one catch Sugiyama was referring to was. Despite all his salesperson's talk about transferring consciousness, Immortex couldn't really do that. At best, they were copying consciousness into a machine body. And that meant that the original still existed. pg. 24


Unknown said...

I haven't heard of this book before, but it sounds like my sort of thing. It sounds as though there are a lot of difficult subjects covered in this book, so I do worry that none of them would be given enough attention, but I am going to see if I can find a copy.

Lori L said...

It was worth reading, Jackie. I found my copy (as I do way-too-many books)at our local used book store's clearance section. I just can't resist books at bargain prices.