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Mindscan    by Robert J. Sawyer order for
by Robert J. Sawyer
Order:  USA  Can
Tor, 2005 (2005)
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Robert J. Sawyer gives us SF in the classic style in Mindscan, which looks at societal complications that ensue when the rich are able to pay to transfer consciousness from (usually elderly) decaying bodies into artificial forms. The story assumes that there is no unique soul, but rather a sapience, whose personality and memories can be copied into multiple versions.

There are two protagonists. Jake Sullivan, heir to a wealthy Canadian beer dynasty ('Sullivan's Select and Old Sully's Premium') discovers, after his father collapses, that he's inherited Katerinsky's syndrome, a fatal weakness in blood vessels deep in the brain. This knowledge drags down his quality of life, until at age forty-four, he undergoes Mindscan. In this process, a company called Immortex copies a human consciousness into an artificial, 'infinitely upgradeable' body (that closely resembles the real one at a selected age). The original 'shed skin' is taken to spend his or her remaining days at High Eden, a luxury resort on the Moon, where every amenity is available in conditions that maximize the aging body's remaining lifespan. When he undergoes the treatment, Jake is helped in his adjustment by Karen Bessarian, elderly author of the hugely popular DinoWorld series. She's chosen a younger (thirty-year-old) version for her new self, and the two become close.

Sound ideal? Life's never so simple, especially in speculative fiction. Those close to the duo don't take to their new selves. Jake's upload is rejected by his dog, his mother, and his girlfriend, while Karen's son takes her to court after her skin dies on the Moon, claiming her assets. And Jake's original self (whose point of view adds great interest to the tale) decides he wants to return to Earth, after a new treatment corrects his brain defect. He's undeterred by the fact that this was not in the contract, and ultimately takes violent action. In addition to the legal challenge sub-plot, Jake starts receiving telepathic communications from other versions of himself, and wonders who is making these unauthorized copies, and why. The story reaches its crescendo on the Moon, where Jake's original and copy meet, a loyal Karen takes decisive action, and Jake discovers what's happened to his other selves.

The development of the court case is fascinating (including both the exploration of individuation and lawyers taking issue with the fact that the androids don't dream), as well as the very human reactions of all versions of these people, in their original and artificial forms. Mindscan is Robert Sawyer's best yet, SF that explores an issue that may not be all that far ahead of us, by developing all kinds of intriguing human implications. Don't miss this one.

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