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A science fiction book by Robert J. Sawyer

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Review of Robert J. Sawyer: Mindscan

  • Mar 14, 2009
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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.

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March 29, 2010
Actually Jake's mind wasn't really transferred as a copy of Jake's mind was what was put in the android body. The original Jake still existed with his mind intact after the procedure was complete.
April 18, 2010
I'm not exactly sure what your point is. I know that.
More Mindscan reviews
review by . March 21, 2009
Sawyer puts a little bit of everything into this book from robotics, to brain studies, to psychology to philosophy with a little bit of high drama and excellent courtroom cross-examination. He studies the question "what makes a person"? and takes it way beyond what Asimov presented in the Millenium Man story.     Jake Sullivan, a man with an illness that will eventually kill him decides to opt for a process called Mindscan where a copy of his mind will be uploaded to a robot …
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Jake Sullivan watched his father, suffering from a rare condition, collapse and linger in a vegetative state, and he's incredibly paranoid because he inherited that condition. When mindscanning technology becomes available, he has himself scanned, which involves dispatching his biological body to the moon and assuming an android body. In possession of everything the biological Jake Sullivan had on Earth, android Jake finds love with Karen, who has also been mindscanned. Meanwhile, biological Jake discovers there is finally another, brand-new cure for his condition. Moreover, Karen's son sues her, declaring that his mother is dead, and android Karen has no right to deprive him of his considerable inheritance. Biological Jake, unable to leave the moon because of the contract he signed, becomes steadily more unstable, until finally, in a fit of paranoia, he takes hostages. Sawyer's treatment of identity issues--of what copying consciousness may mean and how consciousness is defined--finds expression in a good story that is a new meditation on an old sf theme, the meaning of being human. Regina Schroeder
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ISBN-10: 0765311070
ISBN-13: 978-0765311078
Author: Robert J. Sawyer
Genre: Science Fiction & Fantasy
Publisher: Tor Books; 1st edition (March 10, 2005)
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