Daily Archives: August 22, 2010

Review of Mindscan by Robert J. Sawyer


I read a fair amount of science fiction. And as anyone knows whose read my reviews, I’m an enthusiast. My heart beats that little bit mindscanfaster every time I pick up a book with a cool cover and a promising opening page. Every so often that excitement is repaid with interest – as in the case of Mindscan.

Sawyer’s hero, Jake Sullivan, is struggling with a life-shortening, inoperable brain condition which could also leave him a vegetable – his father’s fate. So when he gets the opportunity to upload his consciousness into an android body, he takes it. At this point, we follow both Jakes. Sawyer’s unfussy, clear prose gives us a powerful insight into many of the emotional and practical problems following such a life-changing decision as both versions of his protagonist struggle to come to terms with their new status. His situation is alleviated by friendship with a feisty octogenarian, Karen, who also undergoes the same process. So far, the book is a masterful piece of storytelling that intelligently examines an issue that may well be confronting our grandchildren. But when Karen’s son sues, claiming that he has been cheated out of his rightful inheritance, Sawyer’s handling of the courtroom arguments for and against transferring human consciousness elevates this book from a good piece of science fiction to greatness.

Anyone in the privileged position of criticising the work of other writers has to be very clear about the yardsticks by which they grade authors and their work. For me, a ten out of ten read not only has to deliver a good story with a strong, believable world and convincing characters that I care about – but that ‘X’ factor is an intellectually rigorous examination of a theme or issue. I believe that great science fiction tackles important moral questions surrounding new inventions which are all too often side-stepped by politicians and scientists – often until Society’s need for some kind of judgement becomes overwhelming. Mindscan, with its wonderful overview of the issues surrounding human consciousness, has presented us with much to reflect on, amidst our enjoyment of this highly entertaining and readable tale.