Wednesday, June 25

Mindscan - Robert J Sawyer

Jake Sullivan's adult life has been overshadowed by two interlinked facts - it was a petty argument with his father at the age of seventeen that caused his father to sustain a massive cerebral bleed, leaving him a vegetable; and the discovery that Jake inherited the same blood vessel malformation, a time bomb waiting to explode. Guilt and fear have held Jake in limbo, avoiding relationships and freely living his life. When he hears about a new procedure that will allow his consciousness to be transferred to an artificial body, free of human frailty, he seizes the opportunity to rid himself of the shadow that's loomed over him so long. But there's a catch - the transference is a copy, and the original Jake has to spend the rest of his natural life in a (very luxurious and meticulously appointed) compound on the moon. As the lunar Jake curses fate for not letting him be the blessed one, the uploaded Jake discovers not everyone is as accepting of the uploading process as he was, and his very personhood is challenged.
Once again Sawyer explores a number of fascinating themes, including the nature of personhood, and when this begins (and ends), a philosophical question I have a particular academic interest in). Some aspects of the way this was addressed had me quite agitated because I would have used different counter-arguments, and I had to remind myself it was a novel!
There were also a couple of very interesting concepts that formed part of the background of the novel, and contributed to the plot, that were not specifically explored, including a steadily increasing conservatism in the US (including the overturning of Roe vs Wade) and a corresponding leftward progression in Canada.
Once again themes of relationship (parent-child and interpersonal) came up, both in Jake's avoidance of a relationship with a woman he was interested in but abstained from pursuing, ostensibly to avoid hurting the woman when he died, and the relationship he develops with another upload of an older generation. The way the uploaded individuals are perceived by their families is interesting, and there are a number of questions raised about the practical aspects of immortality, including inheritance, copyright and (to me the most important) the potential for cultural stagnation.
Despite the weight of these themes, Sawyer's writing makes the whole enjoyable and entertaining, and the more somber aspects are subtly threaded through the text, allowing the reader to absorb them at a gradual rate and even ignore them, rather than being bashed about the head with Great Ideas and Serious Themes. This is not my favourite of Sawyer's works, but it still stands head and shoulders above the vast majority of writing in the genre. - Alex

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