James Steele's Reviews > Mindscan

Mindscan by Robert J. Sawyer
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Apr 21, 11

What happened to Calculating God happened to this book as well. Sawyer tried to build a story around some complex questions, and the only way he could was to have characters flat out ask them.

The basic premise of the story is illogical. Why the hell would anybody agree to copy their mind into a robotic body when they know it’ll be the robot that gets to be immortal and not them!? Nothing will change for them; they’ll still be in their aging, frail bodies, so this procedure does nothing to help the biological person.

It made me wonder what Jacob expected. He knew ahead of time that he was copying his consciousness into a robotic body, and that he, himself, would not be in that body. I shook my head thinking you idiot, you knew this was going to happen, and it’s your own damn fault you’re in this mess now. It probably would’ve been easier to believe (and even more dramatic to debate) if the company destroyed the original, biological person as soon as the robotic one started up. Then they could’ve debated whether or not the copy is the same person, it would’ve been an even finer line to argue, and it would’ve given the characters reason to believe that they’d be the same person.

But this book isn’t about the characters—in terms of actual story it’s very thin. Mindscan is about the debate over what life and consciousness is. The story is an excuse to present the questions, and Sawyer couldn’t think of a better way to present them than in a courtroom, which allowed him to ask the questions from both sides. I would’ve liked it to be presented in a story instead of orated in court.

I’ve always thought a courtroom trial is a cliché because Star Trek took this exact same question to court several times, ending with the same decide-for-yourself conclusion. (See ST-TNG: “The Measure of A Man,” and ST-VOY: “Author, Author.”) The book is not boring, for the questions it proposes are entertaining in their own right, but readers looking for a satisfying story will feel lost in an ocean of hair-splitting cross examinations. The bulk of the book is the cross examinations themselves, and very little becomes of them. There has to be a more engaging way to present this. I wonder if he gave too much thought to the research (he did a hell of a lot, and it shows) and not enough to the story. The meaning of life is contained in these pages…and science has a way of making it depressingly biological.
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