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.


13 responses »

    • Yes. I’d certainly recommend it. Sawyer is always worth reading – apart from anything else, he uses his ficition to examine & address issues in an interesting, entertaining way. Hope you enjoy it!

    • That’s interesting. There are a bunch of really talented writers out there. If you give me a heads-up on the type of science fiction you like reading, I’ll be more than happy to point you in the direction of some solidly good writers…

      • I’ve read 40 of the 55 Hugo winners so I definitely know whose out there but I just have a preference for the earlier stuff 😉 The Golden Age! I’m definitely not a hard sci-fi kind of person — science fiction that explores social themes (Ursula Le Guin’s Left Hand of Darkness) or is radical in form (for example, John Brunner’s Stand on Zanzibar or Stanislaw Lem’s His Master’s Voice)… My blog probably isn’t a good indication of the sci-fi books I enjoy since I’ve read so many of the classics I’m now on the “lesser” works of my favorite time period so that people know about them — hehe

    • No offence taken… Right. I’m assuming that if you’re a Hugo Award reader, you’ll already know the likes of C.J. Cherryh, McMaster Bujold & Dan Simmons. I don’t tend to do the weirder reads. But I do like character-led stories. If you’re up for series, Kage Baker’s The Company novels are great, I think – funny, thought-provoking & moving. Steph Swainston is also an intriguing read. Alastair Reynolds Revelation Space series is much admired, but I think his books Century Rain and House of Suns are more enjoyable & better crafted. Neal Asher’s Polity novels are enjoyable & imaginative, if rather on the gory side. Matthew Hughes The Commons is a classic sci fi read, in my opinion. Jack McDevitt is also a worthwhile read. Nick Harkaway’s Gone-Away World is classed as fantasy – but I personally think the book could just as easily be put into the science fiction category. I hope you find at least some of these suggestions enjoyable.

  1. Oh yes, I do the weirder reads. I really think I have a problem with long book series — I love stand alone reads.

    I’ve wanted to read Matthew Hughes’ work for a while so his works works are the first I’ll check out from your list…

    I’ve never read any McMaster Bujold… She’s been on my radar as well. The problem is still have stacks of bad James Blish and Barington Bayley to read 😉

    Have you read any Jeff VanderMeer? I guess he’s technically a fantasy writer but by far one of the most literary and imaginative out there at the moment. Shriek: An Afterword is stunning…. I

  2. I mean, how can someone not want to read a book about a city named Ambergris with a festival surrounding the presence of a giant squid in a harbor… a cityscape resplendent with strange fungus and wrecked by power struggles between publishing houses… and graced with the presence of Borges Book store! these are such wonderful things!!

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