Review by John for: Mindscan ~ by Robert J. Sawyer
Excellent award-winning storytelling from one of the brightest stars in science fiction – exploring the ethics of biotechnology and the nature of human consciousness.
About: Jake Sullivan has spent his life expecting to die at any moment. He has a rare hereditary syndrome that could cause blood vessels in his brain to burst at any time; and he has seen what the impact of that would be – his dad was reduced to a vegetative state and yet lived on for a further thirty years.
It’s the year 2045 and the company Immortex offers to copy ailing peoples’ minds and consciousness into android forms. The androids are made to look almost exactly like the biological bodies of Immortex’s clients – or much younger versions if they so desire; the minds are totally perfect copies. After the “mindscan” and android activation has taken place, the fully conscious but sick person is shipped to a resort on the far side of the moon. There they will live out their last days in luxury but isolation, while the android takes over the life of their biological partner. These androids are fully upgradeable and are expected to live for many centuries.
So far Immortex’s clients have all been very wealthy old people who are near the end of their lives, but younger Jake comes from a rich family and decides to undergo the “mindscan” in his mid-forties, desperate to escape the illness which has always hung over his head. At first all seems to go well and this new android “Jake” is healthy and full of energy.
As the new Jake tries to reconnect with his old friends and contacts, the troubles begin. Although he is essentially the same person, the android Jake is met by puzzlement and suspicion from some people and is shunned by others. Jake now becomes increasingly close to Karen, an android version of an extremely successful author.
While their relationship develops, things start to go awry. Karen’s son sues her, claiming that by undergoing the mindscan the android Karen has cheated him out of his inheritance. How can an android claim personhood and have human rights? A complex and high-stakes courtroom battle ensues. Meanwhile a treatment has been found for biological Jake’s illness, and the original Jake on the moon is cured. But now the human Jake is faced with several decades isolated in the moon resort, and decides he wants to return to earth and take over from his android double. However, he has signed a contract and Immortex cannot allow it, otherwise their business model would be destroyed. As attorneys fight to define consciousness and what it means to be a person, the biological Jake becomes ever more desperate and decides to take hostages.
John’s thoughts: Mindscan is a great combination of science fiction, courtroom drama, philosophical conundrums, twisty plot and a good dollop of humor. It was very thought-provoking. It has such clever ideas and is extremely well written. I have come to rely on Sawyer for being highly imaginative, innovative, creative and entertaining. His books (or those that I have read) have all been set in the not-too-distant future and are full of wonderful ideas that are “out there” but just about believable - based on extrapolations from the realties of today. I’ve also found that his novels have interesting characters and are very easy to relate too, a key draw and interest for me.
You may think that this is sounding like a totally rave review. It almost was, but the ending bugs me. I can’t say too much for fear of spoiling the story for others; suffice to say it feels like this excellent storyline has some loose ends and that a whole new plot develops in the last few pages. In retrospect I have had similar views after reading some of his other books.
Nonetheless this was a most enjoyable read that I blew through in no time. It has a great storyline and the appeal of the book should go far beyond science fictions buffs. If you want to delve into some philosophical head-scratching over what it means to be human when technology is racing ahead, give this book a read. I’d rate it 4 stars.
Mindscan ~ by Robert J. Sawyer; 304 pages | Tor Books | December 2011 (originally published April 2005) | John W. Campbell Memorial Award – Winner.
Do you have trouble with certain types of novel endings, when reading? Does an unsatisfying ending change your feelings for a book?
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