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HALL OF FAMEon 24 February 2006
Sawyer has made a bold, and generally successful, attempt to raise the genre of speculative fiction above the 'space opera' level. Merging a wealth of science and technical publications with a philosophical drama, he's launched a fresh approach to sf prose.
The story relates the life of Peter Hobson, who becomes a specialist in brain signal detection after witnessing a corpse reacting to an organ transplant operation. His research discloses that the brain indeed possesses something that seems to transcend death. Pursuing that issue, he records his own brain signals, creating three identities. Meanwhile, Hobson's a lovely, devoted, wife betrays him with a creep, devastating him. The result is mysterious deaths, a world reaction to his discovery and some heavy discussion on human values.
The debate over human consciousness, whether it exists, whether it's unique in the animal kingdom and whether it has a long term essence, remains ongoing and intense. Works on evolution and sociobiology are permeated with the question of whether our ability to communicate ideas reflects the existence of a spiritual element in humanity. Ever since early humans could perceive the idea of death the question of 'what happens after' has dominated our thinking. Sawyer makes a good effort to deal with the first part of the question: yes, there's something there, and it's not limited to humans. As to the afterlife, Sawyer raises the question, then leaves it for a later book or someone else to decide.
The many comments below about Sawyer's characters reflect the maturity of his prose style. Readers looking for simplistic people and predictable action are not pandered to in this book. He introduces a devout Muslim AI engineer, surely a novel idea in speculative fiction, and a graduate chemist unable to shed her childhood disappointments. Current concepts of family stress, with separations, sex, and parental tensions all become major features in this story. While the characters here are mildly wooden [especially in comparison with Sawyer's later books], their models are real enough. Sawyer simply had too much philosophy and technology to present in too few pages. The lady copper, in particular, is a pretty fast thinker, given the novelty of the circumstances.
The philosophy redeems any faults in this book. We need to recognize where evolution has brought us. Sawyer touches that issue lightly, bringing the story to a level rarely encountered. We are left uncertain as to whether the concept of the soul is meaningful. That will leave some readers unsatisfied, but that's a major part of Sawyer's appeal. He will raise the questions, you must come up with some of the answer. [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]
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on 7 May 2007
Robert J. Sawyer is a great science fiction writer, having won every major award in the US, UK, Canada, Japan, and would have won one in Antartica if they had a contest. This novel won the Nebula and was a Finalist for the Hugo.

Frankly, I do not see why.

The story is based on two scientific premises: detection of the soul leaving the body and computer based artificial intelligence. Detection of the soul leads to experiments in AI to determine what life after death might be like. Dr. Peter Hobson, the inventor of the "soulwave" detection, uses AI and nueral net scanning to create three versions of himself: a life after death sim, an immortality sim and a control sim that is just like him. Hobson has some issues to deal with in his personal life (I won't play spoiler here), and those issues are duplicated into the three sims. One of them goes bad, and starts using the net to kill people.

Sawyer's claim to fame is that he will take premises like this and wrap very real characters around them. The concept of science fiction is in making both the science and the fiction work for the reader. Many writers tend to forget this, either throwing out unbelievable science or getting the science right but forsaking the characters or the plot. Sawyer is normally magic in this.

The Terminal Experiment is a good read, with nice pacing. It bogs down at times in the explanations of the science, and some of the philisophical discussions of the AI's. But the concept of killer AI computers has been hashed and re-hashed (remember HAL!), as has the concept of detecting something that proved life after death. And unlike other Sawyer novels, I had difficulty caring about the characters, esp. Cathy, Peter's wife.

I'm glad I read it, but I'm gonna go now and read Hominids, Humans and Hybrids, his classic Neaderthal Parallax series.
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on 14 January 2008
Going back through time, I just finished Terminal Experiment, winner of the prestigious science fiction Nebula Award in 1995, after having read all of Robert Sawyer's book since his "Calculating God" (2000) in sequence. The subject matter, how technological advances can extend life beyond the usual lifespan has been a major topic in his most recent books, "Mindscan" and "Rollback". Terminal Experiment, Sawyer stated at the time, was "an exercise in determining what a human mind might be like if it were aware either that it would live forever or that it was already dead."

"Hobson's Choice", named with a touch of irony after the primary protagonist, Dr. Peter Hobson, and the title of the novel's serialization in Analog magazine, "is the choice between immortality or a scientifically verified life after death." Hobson's fascination with AI reaches new levels when he discovers an electromagnetic pulse that can be monitored as it escapes from the brain at time of death. He calls it a "soul-wave". Does that mean that a "soul" can be scientifically identified? Where does it lead and how long does it survive outside the body? Does it apply to everybody or was it a fluke? What about animals? Sawyer explores these topics with his usual sharp, investigative mind both from the technological angle as well as the spiritual.

Hobson's friend and partner in AI experiments is Sakar Muhammed. Together, they dream up a scheme that should provide new insights into brain functions after death. They do this by developing sophisticated computer models of Peter's complete brain map. The three models are not identical so that they can monitor the different behaviour patterns in the virtual environment. But then the virtual and the actual realities collide with consequences the two scientists have not foreseen... Are they in the end faced with a real "Hobson's Choice"?

As in the recent novels, brilliant to my mind, this novel combines the human aspects of what artificial intelligence (AI) can provide through advanced technology. He embeds pertinent questions of life after death and the morality resulting from the application of the technological advances into a full-fledged detective and mystery story. At times the story moves a bit slowly and there are unnecessary repetitions. His protagonists' characters are well drawn, their personal lives complicated by events and strong emotions. Other players, in particular, Sandra, Peter's wife are less convincing and rather shallow despite her role in the personal drama. While the reader may have more insights in what is going on than the protagonists, the unravelling of events is as creative as it is unique. Sawyer's knowledge of the latest science is, as usual, spot on and the realization of some of his fictional developments are within reach just a few years later. It makes the reading or rereading of Terminal Experiment years after publication particularly interesting and stimulating. [Friederike Knabe]
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on 14 September 2013
I realise the author is award winning and all that but I feel these are small stories turned into books. Just OK.
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on 21 June 2016
Written in 1995 but not dated at all. A science fiction murder mystery that holds you from page one.
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on 31 August 2014
made up look forward to reading book
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