Thursday, August 10, 2006

So You Won An Award: Mindscan by Robert J Sawyer

Robert J Sawyer is a nice guy and a really excellent author to interview. He's fun, vivacious, witty and talkative.

And that's why I hate to say that Mindscan, despite winning an award, is a pretty darned disappointing read.

Here's the plot: Dude finds out that he has some inherited brain defect that will kill him off at 40ish. He frets about getting married and having kids cuz he doesn't want to leave a wife and kid(s) with the burden of having him either drop dead or become a vegetable. So he signs up for this procedure that will copy his brain into a "quantum gel" in a robotic body that will inherit his personhood while he gets to retire to some resort on the moon and never come back. His goal is that his robtic self will marry the woman he loves and live out the life that he always wanted to lead.

The only problem is that Dude doesn't realize that the robot is a copy of him and not him in a robot's body. So he's all disappointed that his robotic self will be leading the life he wanted to live.

The other problem, for Mechanical Dude, is that everyone is pretty skeeved out by him and not even his dog will hang out with him. So he's a pretty lonely Mechanical Dude.

This sounds promising, right? I mean, think of all the cool things you can explore with this: how the brain deals without its usual biofeedback mechanisms; how people around you deal with the fact that you're a robot and smell like a car interior rather than a human being; how learning and growth would be affected by a static body; how society would be affected by individuals never dying; how a mechanical body would be maintained. All kinds of cool stuff.

But you know what RJS does with it? He turns it into a courtroom novel about civil rights.


If I wanted to read a courtroom drama, I would have picked up a John Grisham novel. But I wanted a sci-fi novel... Something that explored the limits of technology. And, you know, if the sci-fi novel wanted to go into the rights of robots, it wouldn't have to be heavy-handed and obvious. Like, the best short story in "Island Dreams", "Burning Day", is about robots and humans coexisting. It deals with the Uncanny Valley and prejudice without smacking you over the head with a courtroom.

Halfway through Mindscan, I felt it was all very, very sad and, sadly, boring.

There is no way this was the best sci-fi novel of the year.

1 comment:

  1. I was thinking exactly the same thing. I'm glad someone came out and said what everybody is thinking. Thank you very, very much.