Mindscan by Robert Sawyer is an exploration of consciousness, self-awareness, and raises the question of where, exactly, does an individual's core essence that makes her or him a unique individual lie? He cleverly doesn't answer the question, but leaves much food for thought.
The set up for this exploration is the character, one Jake Sullivan, an independently wealthy heir of a Canadian brewing company. Jake's father has become incapacitated from a rare disease that causes a mass brain hemorrhage and Jake discovers he too carries this rare disease that could leave him completely incapacitated or dead, unexpectedly, at any moment. He carries this burden with him, fearing to become too close to people. And while sociable, he has no real intimate friends, even the woman he's in love with.
But Jake finds hope in the form of a new technology. A company has developed a technique where they can transfer an individual's consciousness into a life like mechanical body that offers the possibility of immortality because the body is almost indestructible and as advances are made in the technology, the consciousness can be moved to new and improved models. So Jake takes the plunge and has his consciousness transferred. But there's a catch – there are now two Jakes, one the mechanical body that contains Jake's consciousness, and the "original" or cleverly named "skin" as in shed skin. The original Jake signs a contract that forces him to go to retirement community on the moon. Being a young fellow, this becomes unsettling for the original Jake.
Now enter a famous author, Karen Bessarian – an aging writer who also has her consciousness transferred and heads for the moon while her "other" consciousness continues on in a new body and goes on with life. This sets up a situation where Karen's consciousness in her artificial body winds up in court to determine whether she, indeed, is Karen Bessarian. Meanwhile, the original Jake broods on the moon, with explosive consequences as the story unfolds.
Sawyer does a commendable job of exploring what is consciousness and the novel has plenty of plot twists keeping the story moving at a rapid, entertaining pace. It's an entertaining story to read. There are a few drawbacks, however. First, Sawyer uses a court case to raise questions about what constitutes consciousness and individuality. The courtroom scenes are a little too obviously contrived for my tastes – although overall it is well done and somewhat seamless with the story. Secondly, he uses some unfortunate near future predictions about American politics and future presidents that I found overwrought and a detraction from the story. It was hard to suspend my disbelief when I found this near future America unlikely and it will certainly undermine the ability of the book to have much resonance ten or twenty years from now.
That said, overall I found the novel very worthwhile and interesting, as all of Sawyer's novels tend to be.
What did you think of this review?
Fun to Read
About the reviewer
Doug Baker (cdbaker)
Avid reader and football fan.
Consider the Source
Use Trust Points to see how much you can rely on this review.