Nicholas Barone's Reviews > The Terminal Experiment

The Terminal Experiment by Robert J. Sawyer
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's review
Nov 12, 2011

really liked it

The Terminal Experiment won Robert Sawyer the Nebula Award in 1995 (it also won the Prix Aurora award). The book tells the story of Dr Peter Hobson - a successful Canadian biomedical engineer. Peter comes into the public eye when an improved EEG of his invention is able to detect what many people believe is a person's soul leaving the body at death. The ramifications of this discovery and its effects on society provide for some interesting speculation, but they only serve as the background for the meat of the story.

Peter's personal life is a shambles. He was devastated by his wife's recent admission that she had been unfaithful. Throughout the book, Peter struggles to come to terms with this information.

Peter's professional life is a whirlwind of activity. Everyone wants an interview with the man who proved the existence of the soul. Inevitably, these interviewers ask Peter what life after death is like - a question that Peter, despite his discovery, is entirely unqualified to answer. Peter is a curious man, however, so he comes up with an experiment that he hopes will answer some aspects of the question. Peter's friend, Sarkar, runs a company that has perfected a process that lets them make an electronic copy a person's mind. Peter and Sarkar make three copies of Peter. They edit one so that it has no memory of mortality. They edit the second so that it has no memory of having a physical existence. The third is left unedited as a control. They hope to interview the copies after they have "lived" for a while to see what insight they have to being immortal and being a non-physical being.

Unfortunately, Peter is still angry over his marital problems, and therefor his copies are, too. despite their electronic existence, at least one of them finds a way to act on his anger.

The book plays out as a mystery/thriller as Peter tries to get control of his creations. Sawyer's prose, story, and characters are very engaging. There isn't a lot of action, but I still found myself having difficulty putting the book down thanks to the many intriguing speculations Sawyer's story raises.

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