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WesternSFA
Mindscan
by Robert J. Sawyer
$14.99, Tor, 302pp
Release Date: December 6, 2011

This story was originally published in 2005 and it has just been reprinted.  It won the John W. Campbell Memorial Award.

It has long been the contention of dedicated SF readers that our genre inspires and maybe even directs the course of human events.  And I don’t see why anyone would argue with that.  At the least, our readers grow up and get careers.  And if their careers happen to be in a field whose endeavors influence the course of human events….why then, there you have it.  They would be in a position to make their childhood dreams come true.  Robert Sawyer says in his afterword that he’s long been fascinated by the subject of consciousness and that he sees the field of interest burgeoning, and these words were written seven years ago.  Sawyer even captured a quote from a scientist in the field who said he was inspired by Sawyer’s ideas.  And Sawyer, in my opinion, is one of the best SF idea-persons writing today.

Jake Sullivan lives in a world where the newest technology allows a mind to live, potentially, forever.  The technology copies a human mind perfectly and then houses the copy in an android body.  Jake has a genetic abnormality that could kill him at any moment as it did his father.  So, while most of the clients who buy a “mindscan” are elderly or dying, Jake saw it as a way to escape the probable and inevitable death that had overshadowed his whole life; he’s only 44.

Since the legal “personhood” is transferred to the mindscan, the original biological body has to be…stored somewhere until it finally expires.  So they are sent to a luxury resort on the dark side of the moon.  And this works just fine as most are elderly or dying already.  The spot in the book when Jake, the original biological Jake, finishes the mindscan process and is then ushered off immediately for his one-way trip to the moon is the most clumsy spot in the book.  I was annoyed that this character hadn’t fully realized that his existence was never going to be changed.  Somehow he imagined that he would be the one experiencing the new body, free of the life-threatening condition.  It was annoyingly stupid.  However, it does challenge the reader to find a new way to consider consciousness.

So, as the story progresses and the original Jake tries to fit into his new life on the moon, he reads a news article about a medical advance that could cure him.  The company that manages the mindscan process and the resort are quite willing and happy to arrange for the physician to travel to Jake and perform the procedure.  Jake, you see, along with all the biological mindscan clients, is forbidden and prevented from leaving the moon, ever. The cured Jake then believes that the rules have changed and the natural result would be that he would return to his former life on earth.  But what’s to be done with the copy who has continued that life, albeit in a slightly different direction?  While he is attempting to convince the authority of his legitimate claim, back on Earth the copied Jake has begun a new relationship with another mindscan copy.  And this copy, Karen, is being challenged by her son in court who argues that his real mother was the body that recently died on the moon and that her estate should be probated.

Throughout the story are tantalizing glimpses into the author’s true intent but the reader is easily distracted.  I was mildly surprised at the true conclusion.  It was, unfortunately, not very exciting.  The book is an interesting discussion of what it means to be conscious but the plot is not as much so. ~~ Catherine Book

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