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Mindscan
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Mindscan

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Author: Robert J. Sawyer
Publisher: Tor, 2005
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Book Type: Novel
Genre: Science-Fiction
Sub-Genre Tags: Mind Uploading
Immortality
Hard SF
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Synopsis

Robert J. Sawyer's Hominids, the first volume of his bestselling Neanderthal Parallax trilogy, won the 2003 Hugo Award, and its sequel, Humans, was a 2004 Hugo nominee. Now he's back with a pulse-pounding, mind-expanding standalone novel, rich with his signature philosophical and ethical speculations, all grounded in cutting-edge science.

Jake Sullivan has cheated death: he's discarded his doomed biological body and copied his consciousness into an android form. The new Jake soon finds love, something that eluded him when he was encased in flesh: he falls for the android version of Karen, a woman rediscovering all the joys of life now that she's no longer constrained by a worn-out body either.

But suddenly Karen's son sues her, claiming that by uploading into an immortal body, she has done him out of his inheritance. Even worse, the original version of Jake, consigned to die on the far side of the moon, has taken hostages there, demanding the return of his rights of personhood. In the courtroom and on the lunar surface, the future of uploaded humanity hangs in the balance. Mindscan is vintage Sawyer -- a feast for the mind and the heart.


Excerpt

Prologue

March 2018

There wasn't anything special about this fight. Honest to God, there wasn't. Dad and I had argued a million times before, but nothing awful had happened. Oh, he'd thrown me out of the house a couple of times, and when I was younger he used to send me to my room or cut off my allowance. But nothing like this had ever occurred. I keep reliving the moment in my mind, haunted by it. It's no consolation that he isn't haunted by it, that he probably doesn't even remember it. No consolation at all.

My father's grandparents had made a fortune in the brewing industry - if you know Canada at all, you know Sullivan's Select and Old Sully's Premium Dark. We'd always had a shitload of money.

"Shitload." That's the way I talked back then; I guess remembering it is bringing back my old vocabulary. When I'd been a teenager, I didn't care about money. In fact, I agreed with most Canadians that the profits made by big corporations were obscene. Even in supposedly egalitarian Canada, the rich were getting richer and the poor poorer, and I'd hated it. Back then, I'd hated a lot of things.

"Where the hell did you get this?" my dad had shouted, holding the fake ID I'd used to buy pot at the local Mac's. He was standing up; he always did that when we fought. Dad was scrawny, but I guess he felt his two meters of height were intimidating.

We were in his den at the house in Port Credit. Port Credit was what you came to if you continued west along Lake Ontario from Toronto; it was a classy neighborhood, and even then - this would have been, what?, 2018, I guess - it was still mostly white. Rich and white. The window looked out over the lake, which that day had been gray and choppy.

"Friend of mine made it," I said, without even looking at the ID card.

"Well, you're not seeing that friend anymore. Christ's sake, Jake, you're only seventeen." The legal age for buying alcohol and marijuana in Ontario, then and now, was nineteen; the legal age for buying tobacco is eighteen. Go figure.

"You can't tell me who I can see," I said, looking out the window. Seagulls were pirouetting above the waves. If they could get high, I didn't see why I couldn't.

"Hell I can't," snapped my father. He had a long face and a full head of dark hair, graying at the temples. If this was 2018, that would have made him thirty-nine. "So long as you live under my roof, you'll do as I say. Jesus, Jacob, what were you thinking? Presenting a false ID card is a major offense."

"It's a major offense if you're a terrorist or an identity thief," I said, looking across the wide teak desk at him. "Kids get caught buying pot all the time; no one gives a damn."

"I give a damn. Your mother gives a damn." Mom was out playing tennis. It was a Sunday - the only day Dad wasn't normally at work - and he'd gotten the call from the police station. "You keep screwing up like this, boy, and -"

"And what? And I'll never end up like you? I pray for that." I knew I'd hit home. A vertical vein in the middle of his forehead swelled up whenever he was really pissed. I used to love it when I got the vein.

His voice was trembling. "You ungrateful little bastard."

"I don't need this shit," I said, turning toward the door, preparing to stalk out.

"Damn you, boy! You're going to hear this! If you -"

"Fuck off," I said.

"- don't stop acting -"

"I hate this place anyway."

"- like an idiot, you'll -"

"And I hate you!"

No reply. I turned around, and saw him slumping backward into his black leather chair. When he hit it, the chair rotated half a turn.

"Dad!" I hurried behind the desk and shook him. "Dad!" Nothing. "Oh, Christ. Oh, no. Oh, God ..." I lifted him out of the chair; there was so much adrenaline coursing through my veins from the fight that I didn't even feel his weight. Stretching out his gangly limbs on the hardwood floor, I shouted, "Dad! Come on, Dad!"

I kicked aside a waste basket with a shredder attached; paper diamonds scattered everywhere. Crouching next to him, I felt for a pulse; he still had one - and he seemed to be breathing. But he didn't respond to anything I said.

"Dad!" Totally out of ideas, I tried slapping him lightly on each cheek. A string of drool was hanging out of the corner of his mouth.

I quickly rose, turned to face his desk, hit the speakerphone button, and pounded out 9-1-1. Then I crouched down beside him again.

The phone rang three excruciating times, then: "Fire, police, or ambulance?" said a female operator, sounding small and far away.

"Ambulance!"

"Your address is -" said the operator, and she read it off. "Correct?"

I lifted his right eyelid. His eye tracked to look at mine, thank God.

"Yes, yes, that's right. Hurry! My father's collapsed!"

"Is he breathing?"

"Yes."

"Pulse?"

"Yes, he has one, but he's collapsed, and he's not responding to anything I say."

"An ambulance is on its way," said the woman. "Is anyone else with you?"

My hands were shaking. "No. I'm alone."

"Don't leave him."

"I won't. Oh, Christ, what's wrong with him?"

The operator ignored the question. "Help is on its way."

"Dad!" I said. He made a gurgling sound, but I don't think it was in response to me. I wiped away the drool and tipped his head back a bit to make sure he was getting plenty of air. "Please, Dad!"

"Don't panic," said the woman. "Remain calm."

"Christ, oh Christ, good Christ ..."

The ambulance took me and my dad to the Trillium Health Centre, the nearest hospital. As soon as we got there, they transferred him to a gurney, his long legs hanging over the end. A white male doctor appeared quickly, shining a light into his eyes and tapping his knee with a small hammer - to which there was the usual reflexive response. He tried speaking to my father a few times, then called out, "Get this man a cerebral MRI, stat!" An orderly wheeled Dad off. He still hadn't said a coherent word, although he occasionally made small sounds.

By the time Mom arrived, Dad had been moved into a bed. Standard government health care gets you a space in a ward. Dad had supplemental insurance, and so had a private room. Of course.

"Oh, God," my mother kept saying, over and over again, holding her hands to her face. "Oh, my poor Cliff. My darling, my baby ..."

My mother was the same age as my dad, with a round head and artificially blond hair. She was still wearing her tennis clothes - white top, short white skirt. She played a lot of tennis, and was in good shape; to my embarrassment, some of my friends thought she was hot.

Shortly, a doctor came to see us. She was a Vietnamese woman of about fifty. Her name tag identified her as Dr. Thanh. Before she could open her mouth, my mother said, "What is it? What's wrong with him?"

The doctor was infinitely kind - I'll always remember her. She took my mother's hand and got her to sit down. And then the woman crouched down, so she'd be at my mother's eye level. "Mrs. Sullivan," she said. "I'm so sorry. The news is not good."

I stood behind my seated mother, with a hand on her shoulder.

"What is it?" Mom asked. "A stroke? For God's sake, Cliff is only thirty-nine. He's too young for a stroke."

"A stroke can happen at any age," said Dr. Thanh. "But, although technically this was a form of stroke, it's not what you're thinking of."

"What then?"

"Your husband has a kind of congenital lesion we call an AVM: an arteriovenous malformation. It's a tangle of arteries and veins with no interposing capillaries - normally, capillaries provide resistance, slowing down the blood-flow rate. In cases like this, the vessels have very thin walls, and so are prone to bursting. And when they do, blood pours through the brain in a torrent. In the form of AVM your husband has - called Katerinsky's syndrome - the vessels can rupture in a cascade sequence, going off like fire hoses."

"But Cliff never mentioned ..."

"No, no. He probably didn't know. An MRI would have shown it, but most people don't have routine MRIs until they turn forty."

"Damn it," said my mother - who almost never swore. "We would have paid for the test! We -"

Dr. Thanh glanced up at me, then looked into my mother's eyes. "Mrs. Sullivan, believe me, it wouldn't have made any difference. Your husband's condition is inoperable. AVMs in general affect only one in a thousand people, and Katerinsky's affects only one in a thousand of those with AVMs. The sad truth is that the principal form of diagnosis for Katerinsky's is autopsy. Your husband is actually one of the lucky ones."

I looked over at my father, in the bed, a tube up his nose, another in his arm, his hair matted, his mouth hanging open.

"So, he's going to be okay, then?" said my mother. "He's going to get better?"

Dr. Thanh sounded truly sad. "No, he's not. When the blood vessels ruptured, the adjacent parts of his brain were destroyed by the jet of blood pounding into the tissue. He's ..."

"He's what?" demanded my mother, her voice full of panic. "He's not going to be a vegetable, is he? Oh, God - my poor Cliff. Oh, Jesus God ..."

I looked at my father, and I did something I hadn't done for five years. I started to cry. My vision began to blur, and so did my mind. As the doctor continued to talk to my mother, I heard the words "severe retardation," "total aphasia," and "institutionalize."

He wasn't coming back. He wasn't leaving, but he wasn't coming back. And the last words of mine that ever would have registered on his consciousness were -

"Jake." Dr. Thanh was calling my name. I wiped my eyes. She had risen and was looking at me. "Jake, how old are you?"

I'm old enough, I thought. I'm old enough to be the man of the house. I'll take care of this, take care of my mother. "Seventeen."

She nodded. "You should have an MRI, too, Jake."

"What?" I said, my heart suddenly pounding. "Why?"

Dr. Thanh lifted her delicate eyebrows, and spoke very, very softly. "Katerinsky's is hereditary."

I felt myself starting to panic again. "You - you mean I might end up like Dad?"

"Just get the scan done," she said. "You don't necessarily have Katerinsky's, but you might."

I couldn't take it, I thought. I couldn't take living as a vegetable. Or maybe I did more than think it; the woman smiled kindly, wisely, as if she'd heard me say those words aloud.

"Don't worry," Dr. Thanh said.

"Don't worry?" My mouth was bone dry. "You said this - this disease is incurable."

"That's true; Katerinsky's involves defects so deep in the brain that they can't be repaired surgically - yet. But you're only seventeen, and medical science is galloping ahead - why, the progress we've made since I started practicing! Who knows what they'll be able to do in another twenty or thirty years?"

Copyright © 2005 by Robert J. Sawyer


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