Mindscan (2005) is a Robert J. Sawyer novel (his 16th) with a central focus on consciousness. This is a topic he’s touched on in other books but this time he really gives it his complete attention. And that is saying something as I consider Sawyer one of the most intelligent and technically accurate science fiction writers going. He really puts a lot of research into his topic and seems to grok before writing. If you look at the list of reference works on the ‘consciousness’ at the end of Mindscan you’ll see what I mean.
This book has an heir to a Toronto beer fortune with a life threatening brain disease and an elderly world-famous author who is near death as the main characters. They both transfer their minds in a new process to android copies of themselves. Sawyer explores the legal, moral, philosophical and practical issues that ensue from their choices.
I was particularly intrigued by the inability of future scientists to produce viable artificial intelligence in the world Sawyer paints for us. They have been able to create complex enough electronic brains but not the ‘mind’ to use them. But why throw these brains away? Why not use real consciousness to power the mind of an android with the ‘power of attorney’ of the individual instead. The original humans are nicknamed ‘skins’ and shipped one-way to a luxury complex on the dark side of the moon. Sawyer leaves to the imagination how the company came up with that particular necessity. Hmmm. It would be a good short story for Sawyer’s website where he discusses his ideas before and after writing about them.
So if you see this book at your library I recommend you pick it up and give it a read. Even if you’re not a sci-fi fan, you will find that Sawyer’s fiction is very approachable. And if you do, you’ll love the Neanderthal Parallax trilogy and Calculating God by the same author. I haven’t, in fact or fiction, come across anything by Sawyer that I haven’t liked.


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