Thursday, August 20, 2009

Sawyer, Robert J. Mindscan. New York: Tor, 2006. 370pp.

Robert J. Sawyer's Mindscan is a pretty decent philosophically-based science fiction novel, a real exemplar of old fashioned sf that's idea driven rather than character or plot driven. The novel is basically a wire frame for Sawyer to explore ideas about consciousness, identity and even some legal issues. And that's fine – he's not really trying for a novel of character here. A weakness of this approach, of course, becomes readily apparent. In my mind, any time a novel gets bogged down in a bunch of long, drawn-out court scenes basically to give the various characters the chance to explain their take on the philosophical issues at hand, well, you know you're in trouble. And yes, the novel comes to a screeching halt when that happens.

The issue? If you download your consciousness into a cybernetic version of your body, is it really you or just some other being (which may itself be a fully conscious and deserving of it's own personhood) that just thinks it's you. The complication here is that the old meat version of you isn't destroyed after the download, it essentially transfers legal personhood to the new being and then retires to a resort on the Moon. What happens if the Moon version wants it's life back?

For all the word salad, data dumps and mind melds that Sawyer presents, in the end I have to say that I did enjoy the book and found it thought-provoking. I just wish the characters and plots were a little more in the forefront.

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