mindscan – Robert Sawyer

Gedankenexperiment – certainly is a good word to describe mindscan. A shameful play on words, but it makes me snicker.  Just to belabour the point, the central conceit in the book is that a private company has determined a way to transfer consciousness to a neural gel matrix (or something like that…) using quantum entanglement.  So, it’s an experiment involving thought, get it?

In any case, this is a diverting exploration of some of the issues you’d possibly encounter when consciousness is cloned into an artificial entity, and the ‘shed skin’ surrenders his/her rights to the succeeding ‘person’.  The son of the female ‘upload’ character sues to have her declared dead, so that he’ll inherit.  We are left to assume that he wants the money, and it’s not explored whether or not he cares if it’s really his mother inside the ‘robot’.

The characters are about as solid as in a good Dick Francis novel, which is to say that Sawyer has written better ones.  I think the story could have been (should have been) very moving, but this particular novel does not take it there.  So, we’re left with a neatly-executed Gedankenexperiment.

It’s a clever story… but I think it fell short in a couple areas.  <spoilers …>

I was certainly disappointed that Jacob’s anger and hysteria (in insisting that he be allowed to return to Earth) were explained away as merely an artifact of mental instability following surgery.  Yes, it works, but it sidesteps having to confront tougher emotional issues.    Even more in that line was the sudden shooting of Jacob by one of his hostages.  Bang, he’s out of the picture.  Yet, no discussion of murder or guilt or anything like that.  No mention of whether that’s because he was human-but-nuts, or legally-not-a-person, or what.

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