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on 15 January 2006
Imagine a future where you don’t need sleep, where you don’t lose any part of your memory, your body doesn't age and you are never prone to any disease. You keep all your mental and intellectual capacities, even your emotional ones. You can still identify your “self”. All this is achieved by having your mind “uploaded” into a perfect body of chosen age and live happily ever after. You have become a Mindscan. Not, so fast, though! What about your consciousness, your “soul”? Can it really be copied? And what is going to happen to the original biological self? What about the reactions of family and friends; how do they take this technological wonderwork?
What drives people to take this extreme step? The two protagonists make this choice for different reasons. Karen Bessarian, a highly successful writer in her eighties, doesn’t accept the fast approaching end of her life. She has more books to write and life to enjoy, so she chooses a younger body. Jake, the rich forty-something heir to a Canadian brewery, carries his father’s genetic marker for a brain defect. The older Sullivan collapsed into a vegetative state after a row between father and son when Jake was 17. Jake had put his life on hold to avoid stress and other triggers for brain damage. Meeting at a sales event for the Mindscan technology, Karen and Jake develop their relationship in different ways – as biological selves and as mind “instantiations” with new perfect bodies.
Once the "uploads" have passed their first examinations they are let loose on their family and community with varying results. Tongue in cheek, Sawyer cannot resist some small political stabs contrasting US society at the time [as projected from present conditions] with an increasingly broadminded and left-leaning Canadian one. Jake doesn’t fare well as an uploaded new self. His mother refuses to accept his new identity, his love doesn’t even look at him. Sawyer presents a realistic scenario for his exploration of the reaction of the “loved ones” resulting in most of the story playing out in and around a US court room. Karen’s son, expecting a rich inheritance, challenges the “thing” that has taken over from her. “I don’t care whether copied consciousnesses are in fact persons in their own right. The issue is whether they are the same person as the original.” His lawyer, of course, argues that “it” is not and brings various scientists as witnesses. The other side also has ample expertise on its side and a lot riding on success.
Sawyer has created an intriguing speculative fiction world some 40 years hence where mind scans are possible. In his version of 2045, the technology for cloning humans has not been mastered. Instead, the brain is copied – completely and accurately – in a moment of “quantal entanglement” of the biological brain. The process creates a quantum fog that congeals into one artificial replacement brain. The new “you” takes over from that point. To avoid the problems of sudden doubles or clones, the original, now a "shed skin", has to disappear. Conveniently, lunar explorations have advanced so that a retirement home can provide for the cast-offs - most of whom are old and expect to die within a short span of time anyway. They are mostly rich and content with their lot. Given the costs involved in the whole process, overcrowding is not a problem and any luxury desired can be provided. However, Jake is not finished with earth life yet...
The subject of consciousness and individual self is not a new one for Sawyer. This time, though, he has expanded the complexities beyond what he did, for example, in Factoring Humanity. Using the present–day hot debates around new findings in brain research and the challenges they pose to our understanding of human individuality and functioning into the near future, he confronts our perceptions and belief systems. This opens a new dimension for the philosophical/scientific debate on human consciousness and identity. Professionals as well as interested laypersons grapple with the dividing line between neuron pathways as a result of biochemical reactions and brain functions as expression of thought, argument or emotion, the “soul”.
Mindscan, while deeply philosophical, is an absorbing, well written and highly enjoyable story. Current scientific research and its impact on our future societies are front and centre of this novel, yet, it doesn’t overwhelm the reader and moves easily along with the narrative’s flow. Sawyer has created a complex and very human tale of individuals thriving for their own, unique, personally fulfilling lives. Star Trek: TNG’s Data, who always thrives to become more human, would find good role models in the android versions of Karen and Jake. [Friederike Knabe]
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HALL OF FAMEon 18 January 2006
This book demonstrates why Robert Sawyer is today's pre-eminent science fiction writer. Always keeping speculation in tight rein, he nevertheless exhibits a wide-ranging imagination. His stories are always a good read, yet filled with information. He understands the human condition, displaying that insight with a variety of characters. Even the protagonist-narrator isn't entirely predictable. Others, who seem understandable [but never a stereotype!], spring surprises. He builds the episodes of this story with finesse - no small feat given the characters are 400 thousand kilometres apart.
Jake Sullivan, scion of a Toronto brewery fortune, has a problem. The blood vessels in his brain might unexpectedly explode. It happened to his father during a family fight. The result isn't terminal. It leaves the victim in a vegetative state. Jake decides to take advantage of a new technology to bypass the threat. He'll have his mind scanned and his consciouness copied into an almost indestructible artificial body. Immortality, that quest so long followed by fragile humanity, may be imminent. His "shed skin", the original, flawed body, will be shipped to the far side of the Moon to live luxuriously until "natural causes" prevail. The relocation abandons a lonely dog, a confused girlfriend and a concerned mother.
As might be expected, a threat looms. Give a lawyer an opening and another courtroom drama enfolds. What says the law on two minds of one person? Sawyer has done courtroom scenes before in "Illegal Alien". He surpasses himself with this one as the concepts of consciousness are thoroughly explored by the contending sides. Sawyer is at his best in having characters explain philosophical or scientific stances. Thankfully, in this examination of determining who we are, Sawyer manages to shift the issue of the "soul" out of the hands of the clergy. His defender of that concept would seem inappropriate, but the character expresses the idea fervently.
The resolution of these issues is, amazingly, left for the reader. Sawyer has always avoided absolutes. He has his passions - the Toronto Blue Jays and enjoying Fate's gift of being Canadian, among others. While those are important and worthy of admiration and satisfaction, the issue of humanity in general looms significantly in his work. He is outstanding in dealing with controversies in a balanced narrative. And the story line itself will keep you reading to the end. A true "page-turner". [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]
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on 27 December 2010
Robert J. Sawyer's Mindscan is a riveting read. It is a great page turner that one can hardly put down. Mindscan falls precisely in the genre category of science fiction but it nonetheless gets close to blurring the line between so called genre and literary fiction - yes it is that good in its scope and style.

As this is a science fiction novel, Sawyer has a prologue in which he sets out the basis of the story and an epilogue in which he bring things to an end quickly after some big ideas have been explored. The basic story is one in which our protagonist, Jacob Sullivan has an argument with his father, Cliff, about a forged ID card. Jacob's father suddenly collapse and is take to hospital. The date is March 2018, and what Jacob is about to discover, is that his father has a congenital disorder known as Katerinsky's syndrome. Katerinsky's syndrome is hereditary and in 2018 incurable. The story then leaps forward, some 27 years, to 2045. Jacob fearing that he will be debilitated by the brain disorder learns about an organization, called Immortex, that scans the brain of people who mainly want their minds to continue after their death in the body of a robotic machine that can last for hundreds of years with the memory and consciousness of the original person. Jacob meets Karen Bessarian an aging novelist who wants to upload her mind into a robot. Jacob succumbs to the process but part of the deal is that the original scanned person has to be transported to the moon to avoid conflict with the robotic version which remains on earth. It is the idea of transplanting someone's brain into a robot with two entities having the same mind that allows Sawyer to explore a number of philosophical problems such as: personal identity, what it means to have legal personhood, what it means to have consciousness, the mind body relationship, and free will and determinism. In other words, Sawyer raises the big question of what does it mean to be a human being.

One of the great pleasures of reading Mindscan is that these big themes are explored in a language and style that is accessible without being over simplistic or over technical. Sawyer uses the adversarial process of a court trial in which to discuss the science behind a mindscan and the philosophical conundrums that such a procedure throws up. This method is not over used or tedious. On the contrary, it was a clever move to use the process of a trial to discuss the science and philosophy underlying a mindscan because the reader soon becomes hooked on the adversarial process of the trial.

The novel's method also had to reflect the fact that there exist two entities with the same mind. Sawyer's means of addressing this novelistic issue is to have two first person narrators alternating with each other to convey the story - one on the moon and the other on earth. Of course the disjuncture between these two entities is sharp. One will now reside on the moon will get old and die and the other will continue to live here on earth. One of the scary things thrown up by this is that we are reminded of the human condition of frailty, getting old and dying - our mortality.

Things are brought to ahead because whilst living on the moon the original Jacob has an operation which cures his brain disorder. He now wants to return to earth to resume his normal life. Meanwhile, the original Karen dies on the moon and her son wants to probate her will here on earth. The narrative then delves into a thriller like story as the reader follows the trial which will determine legal personhood. Some of the scenes covering this aspect of the novel are quite touching as: Jacob's mother and his girlfriend reject the robotic version as not being a representation of him, and the robotic version of Jacob raises such questions as to why he never gets tired and has no need of doing basic bodily functions such as using the toilet and sleeping.

Sawyer's novel is not just science fiction not that there is anything wrong with that in itself. It also makes some subtle social commentary on the past and present in relation to the novel's own time span. It question the issue of whether or not only the wealthy would be able to afford a mindscan, It makes a political critique of an American society that has become more conservative rather than progress. He highlights the situation where new technology still maintains distinctions between rich and poor.

I don't normally read science fiction so this was the first novel by Sawyer that I have read. I now hope to read more of his novels and would recommend Mindscan to anyone who is interested in big philosophical ideas and scientific speculation.
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on 31 August 2010
I read a fair amount of science fiction. And as anyone knows whose read my reviews, I'm an enthusiast. My heart beats that little bit faster every time I pick up a book with a cool cover and a promising opening page. Every so often that excitement is repaid with interest - as in the case of Mindscan.

Sawyer's hero, Jake Sullivan, is struggling with a life-shortening, inoperable brain condition which could also leave him a vegetable - his father's fate. So when he gets the opportunity to upload his consciousness into an android body, he takes it. At this point, we follow both Jakes. Sawyer's unfussy, clear prose gives us a powerful insight into many of the emotional and practical problems following such a life-changing decision as both versions of his protagonist struggle to come to terms with their new status. His situation is alleviated by friendship with a feisty octogenarian, Karen, who also undergoes the same process. So far, the book is a masterful piece of storytelling that intelligently examines an issue that may well be confronting our grandchildren. But when Karen's son sues, claiming that he has been cheated out of his rightful inheritance, Sawyer's handling of the courtroom arguments for and against transferring human consciousness elevates this book from a good piece of science fiction to greatness.
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on 28 May 2011
Robert J Sawyer is an author who makes you ask yourself big questions. This novel, set in 2045 US and Canada, sees new technology developed which allows people (for a large fee, of course) transfer their mind to an artifical body, while the biolodigal self, the "shed skin" retires/is exiled to the far side of the moon.
Thus begins the debate, what makes us who we are. This debate eventually becomes a court battle, taking up the final 2/5ths or so of the novel.
All angles are attacked. Are we merely the sum of our experiences? If your mind is moved, does the soul go with it? The reason i like this novel, and some of the authors other work, is becuase it made me ask these questions. Of course, being a RJS novel, the main character is a Blue Jays fan. This helps too.
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on 7 December 2009
I didn't quite go as overboard with this book as the previous reviewers.
I found some of the courtroom questions and answers a little taxing on the mind,
where you had to really sift through the gobbledygook to puzzle out what the
hell they were talking about.

But, hey, this isn't a bad story by any means, and it sets up a very interesting
possibility for the future of mankind, where near the end of your days, if you
can afford it, you can have your memory transferred to an android.
The android takes your place in society, whilst you go to a real dandy retirement
home on the Moon.

The legalities are explored about which one is the real person, and that's where
my poor old head took a minor pasting!
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on 20 March 2007
This is a fluid read. While it lacks an edge-of-the-seat pace and complicated plot twists, it is entertaining and absorbing. The idea of uploading a copy of one's memories and consciousness into an artificial body, while one's biological body remains unaffected, dramatises some fascinating philosophical questions.
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on 20 July 2014
Good read for the summer
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on 5 December 2014
a great item
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